ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An American Muslim activist from Seattle who is being held in a terrorism investigation should be released because he has not been charged with a crime, his lawyer told a judge Friday.
The attorney for James Ujaama, 36, who has been held more than a month, said he told U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee during a closed hearing that continued detention violates his client's constitutional rights.
"You have somebody who has not been charged in any crime and wants to be back with his family," defense attorney Greg Stambaugh said after the hearing. "As a citizen, it's always bothered me when someone not charged with crimes is being held."
Stambaugh said the judge indicated he would rule within 60 days. Ujaama, who Stambaugh said was in the courtroom, will remain in custody in the meantime.
Ujaama was arrested in Denver last month and is being held as a material witness, which the government contends allows indefinite detention because authorities believe he has important information. A material witness is alleged to have substantial information about a crime but is not himself charged.
The government will not confirm that Ujaama is in custody or that he will provide information to a grand jury.
Federal authorities speaking on condition of anonymity have said, however, that officials believe Ujaama provided computer equipment to al-Qaida terrorist camps in Afghanistan.
The Seattle Times has also reported that investigators are exploring Ujaama's ties to Abu Hamza al-Masri, the leader of a London mosque known for extreme anti-American views.
U.S. officials believe al-Masri is the head of the Islamic Army of Aden, a Yemeni group linked to al-Qaida that claimed responsibility for bombing the USS Cole. He is wanted in Yemen on terror charges, and the United States has frozen his assets. Al-Masri denies supporting terrorism.
Sept. 11 conspiracy suspect Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, charged with trying to blow up a plane with explosives in his shoes, were among those who attended al-Masri's mosque.
Ujaama moved to London in 1996. Al-Masri said in an interview with the Times that Ujaama ran the mosque's Web site until about 18 months ago.
Ujaama is being held in this Virginia suburb of Washington that also will be the site of Moussaoui's trial.
Stambaugh said his client is in contact by phone with his family, but the detention wears on him.
"He goes between being upbeat, being upset, trying to remain in good spirits, and it's difficult to do in that situation," Stambaugh said.
Before the hearing, attorneys for several news organizations argued unsuccessfully to allow the constitutional issues to be argued in open court. Lee said he could not do that without potentially compromising the grand jury proceedings, but the judge said he would make his ruling public.
Seth Berlin, an attorney for The Denver Post, said an appeal is possible.