In Wednesday's ruling in the southern district of Florida, for example, Judge Joan Lenard found that reliance on classified information "deprived [Mr. Al-Najjar] of the right to a fundamentally fair hearing" to determine his eligibility for release.

Earlier, judges chastised the INS for relying on hearsay in the case of Kiareldeen, who had overstayed his student visa.

The main charges apparently came from Kiareldeen's ex-wife, who was locked in a custody battle with him and had repeatedly made false accusations against him. The INS evidence alleged that Kiareldeen had hosted a meeting with terrorists in his Nutley, N.J., apartment 18 months before he had moved there.

In response to such cases, the Justice Department has adopted new self-imposed regulations designed to tighten up the use of secret evidence and "ensure we are using our authority responsibly," the INS official says.

A committee of senior department attorneys reviews the evidence, which is approved for use by the attorney general or the deputy.

Unless it would damage national security, a summary of the evidence must be declassified, and must be as detailed as possible.

Yet while unclassified summaries have been provided in nine of the 11 cases now pending, many are largely useless for defense purposes, according to Cole and court rulings.

Al-Najjar, for example, received a one-sentence explanation that he is being denied bond as a national security threat "because of his association with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization."

Indeed, lawmakers, civil rights groups, and immigrants' advocates suggest that Americans have tolerated the use of secret evidence and "guilt by association" against primarily Middle Eastern, politically marginalized immigrants out of a national hysteria over terrorism.

Ironically, they say, the fear and mistrust generated as a result within the Arab-American community could hamper antiterrorist investigations.

"We've fallen victim to an incitement campaign against Arabs and Muslims in this country," testified Nahla Al-Arian, Al-Najjar's sister.

Kiareldeen believes a US "paranoia about terrorism" leads to the selective use of secret evidence against Arab immigrants. "If I were a Frenchman," he says, "this would never have happened."

After a "tortuous" detention, he emerged having lost friends and, most traumatically, contact with his six-year-old daughter, who disappeared with his ex-wife.

As for the future, he's still having nightmares.

"They could come back and do it again," Kiareldeen says. "Who's going to stop it?"

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus