Obama lawyer sticks to ban on Muslim scholar

NEW YORK Tue Mar 24, 2009 3:59pm EDT

Swiss philosopher Tariq Ramadan speaks during a meeting at the Gregorian University in Rome November 6, 2008. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Swiss philosopher Tariq Ramadan speaks during a meeting at the Gregorian University in Rome November 6, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawyer arguing on behalf of the Obama administration on Tuesday echoed Bush administration policies to back a decision to deny one of Europe's leading Muslim intellectuals entry to the United States.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Jones told a U.S. federal appeals court panel that they should uphold a decision to bar Swiss Muslim Tariq Ramadan, an Oxford University professor and a vocal critic of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, from entering the United States.

Civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, had hoped Tuesday's arguments would see a reversal of Bush administration policies that they argue exclude foreign scholars from visiting the United States due to their political beliefs.

"Consular decisions are not subject to litigation," Jones told the three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, broadly arguing the courts have no power to examine visa denials. The ACLU argued against a judge's ruling in late 2007 that upheld Ramadan's ban.

Ramadan is the grandson of Hasan al-Banna, an Islamist thinker and activist who in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood, which opposed secular and Western ideas.

The ACLU has championed Ramadan's case as part of a larger pattern of scholars and writers being excluded due to unwarranted or unspecified U.S. national security grounds.

"It's disappointing to come here today and hear Obama administration lawyers argue the same sweeping executive power arguments," ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer said after the hearing. "There should be a clean break of the Bush administration national security policies."

During arguments, Jones said if the courts questioned a consular officer's decision to bar Ramadan, then that would leave the U.S. government in a "quagmire" with others seeking such reversals.

When questioned how high up the chain of command Ramadan's case had been considered by the new Obama administration, Jones only said it was "upwards in the State Department."

Academic and civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ramadan in 2006 against Bush administration officials for denying scholars foreign visas. The United States has revoked Ramadan's visa several times since 2004.

Washington initially gave no reason for its decision, but later said Ramadan had been barred based on a provision of the USA Patriot Act that allows people to be excluded for supporting terrorism.

The ACLU argued the government was using the provision more broadly to deny entry to people whose political views they did not approve of.

Government lawyers later argued in 2007 Ramadan was barred because he gave 1,670 Swiss francs, then worth $1,336, to the Association de Secours Palestinien, or ASP, from 1998 to 2002.

Washington listed ASP as a banned group in 2003, saying it supported terrorism and had contributed funds to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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