Judge won't close hearing in Islamic State case

AP News
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Posted: Oct 31, 2014 7:12 PM

CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge on Friday denied a government request to partially close a detention hearing for a 19-year-old suburban Chicago man who authorities say violated U.S. law by trying to travel to Syria to join Islamic State militants.

Prosecutors fell short of justifying why the public and media should be barred from parts of the upcoming hearing in Chicago for Mohammed Hamzah Khan, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cox wrote in a four-page ruling. Khan is charged with seeking to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group.

Open hearings help engender confidence the American judicial process is fair, Judge Cox added.

"Holding proceedings in secret ... frustrates the public interest," she wrote. "We are to close proceeding only in rare circumstances, when doing so outweighs the value of openness."

Khan's Chicago lawyer, Thomas Durkin, heralded that finding.

"It is a victory for the Constitution, which too often takes a beating from the government's incessant need to create a state of exception in national security-related cases," he said.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Chicago Tribune had also sent letters to the judge spelling out their objections to partially closing the hearing, which is scheduled for Monday.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, Randall Samborn, declined to comment on Friday's ruling.

Prosecutors had cited the need to protect the identity of two minors they intended to bring up at the hearing as they attempted to show Khan posed a danger to the community or was a flight risk and should remain behind bars. But Cox said she wasn't convinced their concerns trumped the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.

Khan was arrested in early October at O'Hare International Airport trying to board flight to Turkey. A subsequent search of his family's Bolingbrook home turned up a letter he left for his parents, telling them he was disgusted by Western society and felt obliged to travel to the Middle East, federal court documents allege.

Khan's mother and father, originally from India, are naturalized U.S. citizens; Khan was born in the Chicago area. Durkin has said the parents did not know of their son's plans to journey to Syria.

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