Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Activists want public to know terror case ruling

Activists want public to know terror case ruling

NEW YORK (AP) — A civil liberties group asked an appeals court on Monday to force a federal judge to unseal a ruling he made in a terrorism case regarding the government's warrantless wiretapping program.

The judge's sealing of the ruling without an explanation is unprecedented, the New York Civil Liberties Union said.

"Courts do not have authority to issue entire opinions in secret," the group said.

The group's submission to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came in the case of two Muslims accused of supporting terrorism. The NYCLU asked to intervene three days after defense lawyers for the men asked the same appeals court to say the judge erred in letting authorities keep information about wiretaps secret.

The two men — Yassin Aref, imam at an Albany mosque, and Mohammed Hossain, a pizzeria owner and mosque member — are accused of laundering money in 2003-04 for an FBI informant, a Pakistani businessman posing as an arms dealer.

The mosque was raided by federal agents in August 2004 following a yearlong sting aimed at Aref.

The defense lawyers argued that charges against their clients should be tossed out and evidence from wiretaps should be suppressed because illegal wiretaps may have been used.

The NYCLU noted in its papers that the judge rejected the defendants' suppression motion less than two hours after the government on March 10 submitted a secret court document opposing it.

The judge's classified ruling leaves his reasons secret, and an after-hours call to his clerk's office Monday wasn't immediately returned.

The NYCLU said the First Amendment requires U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy in Albany to make public his ruling and the government's submission or to find a narrowly tailored response to the need to protect classified national security information.

The NYCLU asked the appeals court to order the judge to release his opinion publicly with redactions only to the extent necessary to protect classified information.

"It's not a surprise that the government wants this to be secret, but it's extraordinary for a court to go along," said Chris Dunn, NYCLU associate legal director.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Pericek declined to comment.

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