The United States Supreme Court has handed the federal government another legal victory in the war on terrorism.
The Supreme Court declined to review a ruling by a federal appeals court that upheld the government's right to hold secret immigration hearings as part of the war on terrorism.
The Supreme Court action effectively hands the federal government a legal victory, by preserving its right to hold secret deportation hearings to protect national security.
The appeals court ruling had been appealed by newspapers in the state of New Jersey. Their lawyers argued that the press and the public have a right to know what transpired in the secret immigration hearings in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The secret immigration hearings have been widely criticized by civil liberties groups. Rebecca Thornton, of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York, saidshe is disappointed that the Supreme Court declined to take action. "If the press does not have access to these proceedings, there is no way to tell whether they are being conducted fairly, whether the individuals who are appearing before these proceedings have access to counsel [lawyer], what kind of barriers they are facing in making sure that their rights to due process are observed," she said.
Government prosecutors have asked for closed immigration hearings when they designate a detainee is of special interest to the government's terrorism investigation.
Justice Department officials argue that revealing details about suspects detained for questioning could tip off terrorist groups as to how much the government knows about specific terrorist cells or plans.
FBI Director Robert Mueller has defended the secret deportation hearings as an important part of the Bush administration's war on terrorism. "The top priority is counter-terrorism," he said, "to prevent another September 11th [attack]. I do not think there is an agent or support person in the Bureau [FBI] that did not understand in the wake of September 11th that we had to focus on that responsibility to assure that did not occur again."
Justice Department officials say that of the 766 detainees designated as of special interest in connection with the terrorism investigation, 505 have been deported.
Last week, the Justice Department sent a report to Congress that said about 50 detainees are being secretly held as material witnesses in connection with the investigation into the September 2001 terrorist attacks.