Lawsuit Alleges Illegal Wiretaps by NSA

UPDATE: March 2, 2006The Washington Post has further details of this story.]

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Civil rights attorneys have sued the National Security Agency, claiming it illegally wiretapped conversations between the leaders of an Islamic charity that had been accused of aiding Muslim militants and two of its lawyers.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland asks that electronic surveillance by the NSA be shut down, arguing the agency illegally wiretapped electronic communications between a local chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, both attorneys in Washington, D.C.

It was only a matter of time before Saudi Arabia became an object of discussion in the current flap over warrantless wiretapping by the NSA. And now it also includes a frequent commenter at Crossroads Arabia, Wendell Belew, as this New York Times story relates.

My personal feelings about the wiretapping are mixed. As a citizen, it concerns me that my phonecalls become part of a government record, but I’m also strongly in favor of doing what is necessary to protect national–and therefore, my–security. While not a lawyer, I have studied Constitutional Law and keep current with it. This issue is a tricky one, with good arguments being made on both sides, but I generally support the Administration’s interpretation.

But laws–or their interpretation–can unjustly affect people and entities. This particular case involves the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, an organization surrounded by controversy. Several branches of that foundation have been shuttered around the world as the result of joint US-Saudi efforts, with both countries identifying terrorist-related branches to the UN.

Al-Haramain in Saudi Arabia, however, is not closed. According to this story,

Prosecutors later asked a federal judge to dismiss the charges against the Ashland chapter, which was granted over the objections of attorneys for Al-Haramain, who wanted the government to show what evidence it had against the charity.

Because charges were dropped–though this in itself does not prove innocence–this matter differs from those that led to successful prosecutions.

But I’m not sure how this differs from the damages incurred by anyone who is investigated in a public manner. Reputations are hurt, regardless of guilt or innocence. Generally speaking, reparations are not paid for damages that occur as part of bona fide investigations.

March:02:2006 - 07:06 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink
One Response to “Wiretap Mess”
  1. 1
    Wendell Belew Said:
    March:04:2006 - 10:41 


    While I cannot comment on the lawsuit or on the underlying facts, I do believe that it is worthwhile to point out the absurdities of the current US policies on controlling terrorist financing.

    First of all the standard of proof is “Reason to Believe”. This standard was rejected by the Supreme Court in the Guantanamo case. Under this principle, a newspaper article, intelligence from a foreign source or an anonymous allegation can be used to designate an individual or organization as a supporter of terrorism. As long as the government has ANY reason to suspect ties to terrorism, no matter how flimsy or how well refuted, the designation will stand. Because some allegations and evidence are secret there is limited opportunity to contest or refute some charges (there are many cases where the charges are unstated). Since 911 no organization designated as a supporter of terrorism has been cleared, despite statements of the 911 Commission and other bodies casting doubt on the validity of some designations. In addition, no individual or organization designated as a supporter of terrorism has been convicted of criminal charges relating to terrorism although several have been indicted. On the other hand, several organizations so designated have been cleared by European authorities but remain on the US list of designated entities.

    There is no right to independent appeal, and the right to counsel is limited to those who are given a special licence by the Office of Foreign Assets Control. As a final assault on due process, an individual or organization may be designated as a supporter of terrorism simply as a result of “links” to another organization or individual who is listed even though those links may have predated the listing of the linked individual.

    Whatever the merits of issues raised in the NSA lawsuit, it is clear that the US needs to reform its laws relating to terrorist financing to provide for more transparency and establish due process safeguards. By targeting Muslim organizations (mostly charities) the US runs the needless risk of appearing to be waging a war on Islam. Ironically, targeting established charities has resulted in an increased flow of cash contributions to crisis areas – not a step forward in the effort to control financial support for terrorist organizations.

    Mainstream philanthropic organization in the US and Europe are becoming increasingly united in their opposition to US policies, laws and regulations in this ares, both for the reasons I have stated as well as for other considerations. Reform in this area would provide increased security and gains for the US in terms of public diplomacy.

    Thanks for the opportunity to post.


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