CHICAGO - On the 12th floor of the federal courthouse in Chicago, a hearing is taking place in a terrorist money-laundering case that has all the intrigue of a novel, complete with Israeli agents, disguises and allegations of torture.
But two guards block the public from entering the hallway leading to U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve's courtroom, their impromptu post fashioned from a long table that stops traffic.
"Sorry, we're not letting anyone through," one of the men said Tuesday. "Come back later in the week." The hearing remained closed Wednesday.
Although experts say judges frequently take special precautions to protect witnesses, St. Eve's decision to bar the press and public from the pretrial hearing to better safeguard the Israeli agents against terrorist reprisals has raised many eyebrows and incensed some civil-liberties advocates.
"I don't believe serving the interest of a foreign intelligence agency is high priority for the American people," said Ahmed Rehab, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago. "A higher priority is a fair and open trial guaranteed in the Constitution."