Secret Evidence: Looking At The Bottom Line - Editorial

The Jewish Press - December 3, 1999

The release of an Egyptian man who had been held for three-and-a-half years in a federal detention center in New York on secret evidence the FBI claimed linked him to terrorists in the United States and Egypt raises some disturbing questions of a double standard. Nasser K. Ahmed was released, effectively, because Attorney General Janet Reno refused to go along with a determination by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the FBI that he continue in federal detention as a security risk.

Ahmed served as a legal assistant to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman during his trial for conspiracy to blow up the United Nations and other New York landmarks. When Ahmed overstayed his visa after the conclusion of the trial which resulted in Rahman's conviction, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service moved to deport him to Egypt, citing classified evidence it said showed that he was a security risk. Ahmed responded by seeking asylum in the United States, claiming that if he were sent back to Egypt because of his support for Rahman, who was a vocal opponent of the Mubarak government, he would be subject to persecution. During the course of his case before the INS, the agency kept him incarcerated as a security threat.

In truth, we are never comfortable with government acting on the basis of "secret" evidence which nobody has an opportunity to controvert. Indeed, we still don't know the substance of the charges against 'Jonathan Pollard. But we recognize that there may be times when disclosure of evidence could, in fact, harm national security and given the conspiratorial nature of the Rahman-led terrorist network, ongoing investigation could be undermined.

But what concerns us most is that the "experts" in this case the FBI and the INS, counselled thai Ahmed posed a threat, yet Attorney General Reno dismissed those concerns. And when the FBI, the CIA and other intelligence agencies said the 17 FALN convicted terrorists should not be released because they still posed a threat to U.S. security, President Clinton overrode those objections and ordered their release. Yet when the same intelligence experts told President Clinton that Jonathan Pollard would pose a threat to national security if he were released, the President reversed his purported decision to commute his sentence.

Of course no two - or three - cases are exactly alike, so it is not always useful to paint with a broad brush. But sometimes the stark reality of differing bottom lines is as significant as how they were precisely arrived at.