The Blog

Updates on Mazen Al-Hajjar and the Sins of Modern Journalism

There's breaking--and good--news about one of America's worst illegals. And the briefest of cameos for Zadvydas.

11:01 PM, Nov 27, 2001 • By DAVID TELL
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THE EDITORIAL in our magazine's current issue suggests that Mazen Al-Najjar, an illegal alien living in Tampa, Florida, is a "free man" pending judicial appeal of his petition for political asylum--notwithstanding a Department of Justice determination that Al-Najjar has held leadership positions in two "front organizations that raised funds for militant Islamic-Palestinian groups such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas." I wrote that editorial. And I am happy to report, in this particular at least, that it is wrong.

This past Saturday, after The Weekly Standard had been printed, Immigration and Naturalization Service agents arrested Al-Najjar outside his Tampa apartment and the Justice Department announced that it intends to "proceed with removing him from the United States." Though the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals had rejected his asylum demand--and thus upheld a final order of deportation against him--on November 13, it was thought Al-Najjar would request a stay of that ruling from the Supreme Court, and INS officials had consequently held off. But Al-Najjar's attorneys failed to ask the Supreme Court for such long-shot relief, and having waited eleven days, the INS apparently decided to go ahead.

Al-Najjar's Florida attorney, Joe Hohenstein, tells Mary Jacoby of the St. Petersburg Times that "legal reality" indicates his client may finally have to leave the States--and that he has consequently entered into "serious discussion" with the government about compliance with the deportation order. Jacoby reports that federal officials are already "working to secure" Al-Najjar's transfer to the United Arab Emirates.

Al-Najjar's lawyers have consistently claimed that no foreign country, including the UAE, would accept their client for deportation. Jacoby points out, however, that UAE embassy officials in Washington confirmed their willingness to admit Al-Najjar as long ago as 1997--provided the United States could produce valid travel documents for him. And Al-Najjar has thwarted U.S. efforts to obtain those documents ever since. The Egyptian "refugee" visa with which he entered the country in 1981 expired more than fifteen years ago. Egypt issued Al-Najjar a second travel permit in 1998 and INS agents twice thereafter requested that he turn that document over--so that they might submit it to their UAE counterparts. But Al-Najjar rebuffed those requests and his second Egyptian visa, too, has now expired.

Jacoby reports that federal officials will now "have to persuade Egypt to issue him a third travel document and persuade the UAE to issue him an entry visa. Those negotiations are taking place quietly through diplomatic channels."

Here's hoping they succeed.

One other clarification is in order concerning this week's editorial. The Justice Department's recent detentions of roughly 1,000 non-resident Arab and Muslim men have been widely condemned as unconstitutional by newspaper columnists and other professional opinionators. My editorial pointed out that no one who has read the Supreme Court's most recent ruling on the constitutionality of alien detentions--Zadvydas v. Davis, decided this past June--could possibly make such a claim. And as evidence of "modern journalism's chronic, shocking ignorance of the law," I indicated that no major American newspaper has "mentioned a single word" about Zadvydas since the attacks of September 11.

I am grateful to an alert reader, Ryan Tate, for informing me by e-mail that I wasn't quite right about this. Mr. Tate points out that reporter Jess Bravin of the Wall Street Journal has, indeed, recently published stories which referred to Zadvydas--and accurately summarized its central, relevant holding. Another reader (and fellow fourth estater), Tom Curry of MSNBC.com, has called my attention to the excellent analysis of Zadvydas included in his October 24 story, "What Rights for Non-Citizens?" MSNBC isn't technically a "newspaper." But I apologize to Mr. Curry--and to the Journal's Jess Bravin--for the oversight, just the same. And I commend their work to the rest of the country's working pundits. Who, I continue to maintain, haven't got a clue when it comes to the constitutionality of recent federal anti-terrorism initiatives.

David Tell is opinion editor of The Weekly Standard.