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In re Material Witness Abdallah Higazy (Challenging sealing of controversial confession related to 9/11)


At issue in this case was whether an FBI report regarding a controversial confession that was submitted to a district court judge at the court’s instruction should have been sealed or released to the public. Abdallah Higazy was an Egyptian student who was arrested on Dec. 17, 2001 and detained as a material witness by the federal government. The government alleged that a ground-to-air radio had been found in a locked safe in Higazy’s hotel room at the World Trade Center, from which he had been forced to evacuate during the attacks of Sept. 11. Mr. Higazy initially denied any knowledge of the radio. An FBI agent reported that Mr. Higazy confessed to owning the radio during a subsequent polygraph test. This reported confession prompted the federal government to file criminal charges against Mr. Higazy on Jan. 11, 2002. The charges were abruptly dropped, however, when another person came forward three days later and claimed ownership of the radio. The district court judge who originally issued the material-witness warrant then demanded that the government explain how it had obtained the confession, which Mr. Higazy alleged was coerced and secured in the absence of counsel.

In November 2002, the government filed its report but asked the judge to seal it and not disclose it either to the public or to Mr. Higazy. The NYCLU then entered the matter as counsel for Mr. Higazy and filed an extensive letter brief opposing the sealing request on Nov. 13. On Nov. 21, 2002 the government changed its position and agreed to release the report. 

S.D.N.Y., Index No. 01 Misc. 1750 (JSR) (direct) 

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