In response to a motion from the NYCLU, the federal government on November 22 abandoned its effort to keep secret a report addressing the actions of the FBI in obtaining a "confession" from an innocent Egyptian student arrested after the September 11 attacks. Since last spring the government had insisted that all details of its investigation into the reported confession be kept from the public, but it changed its position nine days after the NYCLU filed a motion asking the court to release the report.
The student, Abdallah Higazy, was arrested in December 2001 and charged with lying about ownership of a ground-to-air radio that reportedly had been found in a safe in his room at a hotel at the World Trade Center, where he was staying when the attacks occurred. Federal Judge Jed Rakoff ordered Mr. Higazy held without bail after the federal government reported to the judge that Mr. Higazy had confessed to owning the radio in an FBI interrogation. Two weeks after the supposed confession, another person came forward to claim the radio, and Mr. Higazy was fully exonerated.
Judge Rakoff then demanded that the government explain how it had obtained a confession from Mr. Higazy. After the government refused to complete the investigation and provide a report to Judge Rakoff, he ordered that it do so by October 31. The government then filed a report that day but asked that it not be released to the public.
The NYCLU then entered the case as co-counsel for Mr. Higazy along with his criminal defense lawyer and filed a motion with Judge Rakoff arguing that well-established law required disclosure of the report. The NYCLU also argued that the current national controversy over coerced confessions made release of the report particularly important.
On November 22, the federal government informed Judge Rakoff that it agreed with the position of the NYCLU and would consent to release of the report so long as the names of three witnesses were not disclosed. Judge Rakoff released the report on November 25.