Secret detention is point of contention

Hawash supporters, activists say 1984 law violates civil rights

Much of the public concern over Maher Mofeid 'Mike' Hawash's case stems from the fact that the federal government held him in secret for five weeks before charging him with a crime.

Hawash's lawyers and supporters say the government violated his rights by arresting him as a material witness March 20, then refusing to confirm that he was being held without charges at Sheridan Federal Prison.

The specter of an American citizen being 'disappeared' by their government helped fuel a wave of stories and editorials in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other major news outlets. Even after Hawash was formally charged with three conspiracy counts Monday, his lawyer, Stephen Houze, asked, 'Why was an American citizen held for five weeks without being charged?'

Under a 1984 statute, prosecutors may seek an arrest warrant if a potential witness' testimony is 'material' to a criminal proceeding and the individual is likely to flee. A judge Ñ in this case, federal Judge Robert Jones Ñ must approve the detention, and the witness is entitled to a bond hearing and a court-appointed attorney.

In fact, the statute has been used often in high-profile cases, including the arrest of Terry Nichols, who eventually was indicted and found guilty for his part in the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

Susan Mandiberg, a law professor at Lewis & Clark College, suspects one reason is the backlash to the Bush administration's domestic war on terrorism. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, hundreds of Muslims have been detained as material witnesses across the country.

'Some people believe the law is being used against a particular ethnic group,' said Mandiberg, who also thinks Hawash's middle-class background is a factor in the controversy. 'On the surface, he looks like an average American, and he has a lot of middle-class, highly educated friends who support him.'

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