Chicago Tribune: Closed-court ruling in Hamas case is assailed

A coalition representing more than 20 Arab-American, legal and civil rights groups Thursday protested a federal judge’s decision to close her courtroom when Israeli agents testify at a hearing next month.

Members of the Coalition to Protect Citizens’ Rights held a news conference to say the decision would foster distrust of the justice system, especially in the Islamic community.

“More secrecy … in administering justice leads to more severe erosion of the civil rights of Americans,” said Yaser Tabbara, Chicago executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “We, naturally, are the community that is bearing most of the brunt of the continuous [civil rights] violations.”

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve agreed Tuesday to close the courtroom when the agents testify at a March 3 hearing in the case of Muhammad Salah, a Bridgeview man accused of helping to fund Mideast terrorists.

Federal prosecutors said the unusual step was necessary to protect the safety of the agents and to preserve classified information.

The Chicago Tribune and a New York-based civil rights group, Center for Constitutional Rights, filed legal briefs in the case on Monday, opposing closing the courtroom. The coalition members joined in the center’s brief.

“There are two versions of what took place [in the Salah case], and to discover the truth the hearing should be open to the public and the press,” said Shafic Budron, president of the Chicago chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Steven Saltzman, an attorney for the center, said the government put St. Eve in a difficult position by taking information that would normally be public in a criminal case and declaring it classified.

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