(RNS) -- About 25 representatives of American Muslim organizationswalked out of a White House meeting Thursday (June 28) after the SecretService asked a member of the delegation to leave. The meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with theRev. Mark Scott -- associate director of the White House Office ofFaith-based and Community Initiatives -- was interrupted when AbdullahAl-Arian, a college intern in the office of Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich.,was asked to leave. "About 15 or 20 minutes into the meeting a uniformed Secret Serviceofficer came in and was trying to find Abdullah," Faisal Gill, of theAmerican Muslim Council, told Religion News Service. "Abdullah and acouple of other representatives went out and talked and came back in andone of the representatives said they were asking Abdullah to leave. Soat that point everybody said we were all going to leave if Abdullah hadto leave, so we did." No official reason was given for the request, Gill said, but somesuspect the incident was linked to the political activism of Al-Arian'sfather. Sami Al-Arian is president of the National Coalition to ProtectPolitical Freedoms, which has battled the U.S. government's use of"secret evidence" -- evidence never disclosed to a defense team -- indeportation proceedings to detain people suspected of terroristactivity.The college student is also the nephew of Mazen Al-Najjar, aPalestinian professor whom the government recently freed after holdinghim in custody for about three years on the basis of secret evidence.The government had claimed to possess evidence that connected the man toa terrorist group. "Sami has spearheaded the challenge to the secret evidence laws andhis brother-in-law (Al-Najjar) was one of the secret evidence victims,"said Margaret Zaknoen, a spokeswoman for the Muslim Public AffairsCouncil, which organized the meeting. "They are very high profilefigures on the issue of secret evidence. Neither one has ever beenconvicted of a crime, but their names raise alarms at the White House." Zaknoen said that White House security gave security clearance forAbdullah Al-Arian before the meeting began, and likewise last weekraised no objections when the elder Al-Arian visited the White Housewith several other Muslim leaders for a briefing planned with VicePresident Dick Cheney at which the vice president did not show up.
Thursday's incident "is the latest in an unfortunate pattern ofexclusion by the Bush administration," said a statement endorsed byseveral groups at the meeting, including American Muslims for Jerusalem;the Council on American-Islamic Relations; the North American Councilfor Muslim Women; the Coalition for Good Government; Dar Al Hirjah; theCoordinating Council of Muslim Organizations; the Islamic Institute; theMuslim American Society Monitoring Team; and Karamah, Muslim WomenLawyers for Human Rights. "This sends a message to American Muslims that the White House willengage only if it is allowed to dictate the terms and decide who isallowed at the table. American Muslims reject the notion that communitymembers must pass a litmus test," the statement said. The groups have not received any formal apology, Zaknoen said. "About 45 minutes after everybody left and people were standingoutside talking to the media, the Secret Service did come out and saythat they removed the flag from Abdullah's name and if we wanted to wecould all go back in and talk, but we decided to take a pass on that,"she said. "You might consider that an apology, but we haven't receivedanything formal." Gill said he hoped an apology would be forthcoming but hoped theincident would not mar the groups' relationship with the White House.
"We still want to work with the White House," he said. "We're verysupportive of the president -- we worked hard to get him elected and westill believe him when he says he wants to work with us. Now we're justasking him to prove it. We just want a regular dialogue with hisadministration."