updated 10/14/2008 8:48:54 PM ET 2008-10-15T00:48:54

An Egyptian-born Muslim scientist who lost his security clearance and his job at a nuclear warship components plant deserves an administrative hearing to learn more about why he was fired, his attorney told a federal judge Tuesday.

Abdel Moniem El-Ganayni, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights group, sued the department earlier this year, saying he was wrongly fired for speaking out against U.S. foreign policy and the alleged mistreatment of Muslims by the FBI.

Tuesday's hearing was not about getting El-Ganayni rehired, but to prevent Energy Department officials from hiding behind a claim of "national security" if he was actually discriminated against, said Witold "Vic" Walczak, legal director of the ACLU in Pennsylvania.

"If we win, he doesn't get his clearance back, he gets a hearing," Walczak explained after the one-hour session before U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry.

The scientist has been a U.S. citizen for 20 years. His Energy Department security clearance was suspended in December.

Revoked and fired
Deputy Energy Secretary Jeffrey Kupfer personally reviewed El-Ganayni's case and, in May, his clearance was revoked. He then was fired from Bettis Laboratory near Pittsburgh, where he had worked for more than 17 years.

According to El-Ganayni's lawsuit, Energy Department officials and the FBI had questioned him about speeches he made, his views on suicide bombings and the Quran, and a conflict he had with the Pennsylvania prison system, where he has ministered to Muslim prisoners. But El-Ganayni and his attorneys said he was never told specifically what information led him to lose his security clearance and job.

Government attorneys asked McVerry last month to dismiss El-Ganayni's lawsuit. Marcia Sowles, the Justice Department attorney on the case, said Kupfer's review was an administrative review "at the highest level" and that McVerry doesn't have the jurisdiction to challenge Kupfer's finding that an administrative hearing could release sensitive national security information.

"What he's seeking to do here is to second-guess the revocation of his security clearance," Sowles argued.

El-Ganayni, however, wants a career Energy Department employee, not a political appointee, to review his case.

"What you have here is a political appointee making a decision in an administration that has repeatedly made political, illegal and indefensible decisions" under the guise of national security, Walczak said. That's why "there's some comfort in getting those career folks to eyeball what's going on," Walczak explained.

Charges of 'a saboteur, spy'
Walczak said El-Ganayni almost certainly won't get his job back even if he gets the administrative hearing. He might learn enough to make a case that he was discriminated against and that the government hid behind "national security" in doing so, Walczak said.

"You could go to the media, you could go to Congress," with such information, Walczak said.

In seeking to dismiss his lawsuit, the government claimed to have "reliable information" that El-Ganayni had contact with "a saboteur, spy, terrorist, traitor, seditionist, anarchist, or revolutionist, espionage agent, or representative of a foreign nation whose interests are inimical to the interest of the United States."

Without specifying, the government also says El-Ganayni "engaged in unusual conduct" that showed he was not "honest, reliable or trustworthy."

McVerry said he expects to rule on the matter soon.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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