Details may not come until May in case of jailed Arab-American
More than 100 people gathered Monday in front of Portland's federal courthouse to protest the detainment of Maher 'Mike' Hawash, an Intel Corp. contract engineer who has been held for nearly three weeks without being charged.
Hawash, a Palestinian-born U.S. citizen, has been detained since March 20 in Sheridan Federal Prison. Members of the Portland FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested him at Intel's offices in Hillsboro.
All of the documents pertaining to Hawash's detainment are under seal, and the attorneys and witnesses involved in the case are under a court order not to comment.
Friends and family of Hawash said he is being held as a material witness. Oregon U.S. Attorney Michael Mosman would not confirm or deny this, but he did spell out the material witness law in a recent letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., about Hawash's detainment.
Senator's letter gets a response
The 1984 material witness statute allows the government to hold witnesses who are considered flight risks or who may need protection while they are testifying. Many Arab-Americans have been detained as material witnesses for government investigations into possible terrorist links since Sept. 11, 2001. Civil libertarians criticize the practice, while prosecutors say that new legal tools are necessary to maintain security.
Mosman estimated that the details of the case will remain secret for at least another month. 'My best estimate is that we will be able to comment further by early May,' he wrote on April 4.
After hearing from several constituents, Wyden had requested information about Hawash's detention in a March 28 letter.
The people who showed up to support Hawash on Monday knew little about the status of the secret case. Among the protesters were friends and colleagues of Hawash, supporters from Portland's Muslim community, and current and former Intel employees.
Hawash's wife, Lisa, also attended. At one point she tried to enter the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, but security guards turned her back, according to witnesses.
Later a clerk emerged with the names of five people who were asked to enter, said Steven McGeady, a former Intel vice president who organized the rally. McGeady said the people who were called into the courthouse were character witnesses in a secret hearing that was being held on the 14th floor.
There was no hearing listed in the day's court schedule for the 14th floor.
Citizenship acquired 15 years ago
Monday's rally lasted more than an hour, with people chanting, 'Free Mike now,' and waving for support from passing commuters.
Lisa Hawash declined all media requests, explaining that she could not comment. Her sister, Shawn Morrison, who traveled from Arizona to help the family, said Lisa wasn't even allowed to discuss the case with her.
'You should be able to talk about things with your own family,' she said. 'These things aren't supposed to happen in America.'
Hawash is a software engineer who has been a U.S. citizen for 15 years, living in Hillsboro with his wife and their three children. Hawash, who was born in Nablus, on Israel's West Bank, and was raised in Kuwait, worked for Intel from 1992 until 2001, when he became a contract engineer.
While federal prosecutors acknowledge they are considering further indictments in the so-called Portland Six case, they would not comment on whether Hawash is being held as a material witness in that case. Six Portland Muslims are charged with conspiring to fight against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Mosman's letter explains that 'unlike the detainees at Guantanamo Bay,' Hawash is not being held as an 'unlawful enemy combatant.'
U.S. District Judge Robert Jones, who is handling the Portland Six case, did not return calls by press time.
According to tax documents, Hawash recently donated more than $10,000 to the Global Relief Foundation, which has since been listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. government.