ACLU of Oregon Criticizes Use of Material Witness Law to Detain U.S. Citizen

Affiliate: ACLU of Oregon
April 3, 2003 12:00 am

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PORTLAND – The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon today criticized the U.S. Justice Department’s use of the material witness statute to detain Maher “Mike” Hawash, a resident of nearby Hillsboro.

“The use of material witness warrants and attorney gag orders has been part of the Justice Department’s campaign of detention and secrecy targeting Muslim and Arab Americans during the past 18 months,” said David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon

“The material witness process was designed to be used in cases where there is a great risk that a witness may flee the jurisdiction to avoid testifying,” he added, noting that Hawash is a U.S. citizen with strong ties to the local community. “It is designed to preserve evidence, not to indefinitely detain individuals who haven’t been charged with a crime.”

FBI agents and members of the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Hawash on March 20; he is reportedly being held in solitary confinement at the federal prison in Sheridan.

At the same time Hawash was arrested in a parking lot at Intel Corporation, where he works, agents searched his home and served his wife, Lisa Hawash, with a grand jury subpoena.

According to a November 2002 Washington Post story on the use of material witness warrants, more than 40 people have been detained by the Justice Department since September 11, 2001. As of that time, seven of those were U.S. citizens. Federal trial courts have differed on whether the Justice Department’s actions comply with the law or the Constitution.

Fidanque said the ACLU believes the Justice Department is using the law to “bring the full weight of the U.S. government down on individuals and their families to coerce them into doing whatever the government wants.”

“All of this has been shrouded in secrecy,” Fidanque said. “Since the Justice Department won’t release any information and the lawyers of those who have been detained are under gag orders, there is no way for the public to evaluate whether these unprecedented measures are justified.

What we do know is that our Constitution was designed to prevent government officials from secretly snatching individuals, holding them in isolation for weeks and frightening their families.”

“If someone is suspected of a crime, go ahead and arrest him if you have the evidence. If you need someone to testify before a grand jury, give him a subpoena and let him testify.”

Friends and co-workers of Hawash have established a website related to his case, which can be found at

Mike Hawash was born in Nablus on the West Bank and was raised in Kuwait before emigrating to the U.S. in 1984. He became a citizen in 1988 after receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas. He has lived in Hillsboro since 1992 and has been a software design employee and contractor for Intel since that time. He and his wife are raising three children.

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