Thursday, December 30, 2010

U.S. Ordered to Pay Group of Muslims


The New York Times

 December 21, 2010

U.S. Ordered to Pay Group of Muslims


WASHINGTON — A federal judge ordered the government on Tuesday to pay nearly $2.6 million in lawyers’ fees and damages to officials with a shuttered Islamic charity in Oregon who the judge said were wiretapped without a court order under the surveillance program approved by President George W. Bush after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The ruling by Vaughn R. Walker, the chief federal judge in San Francisco, punctuates a years-long lawsuit that tested the balance between civil liberties and the president’s authority.

The Justice Department did not immediately say whether it would appeal the ruling.

The dollar amount of damages is relatively insignificant for the government. But the principle the judge first laid out in a March ruling and expanded on Tuesday was critical to all parties.

For charity officials and their lawyers, the ruling offered vindication in a case that the Justice Department fought largely by relying on the president’s executive power and the government’s claim to keep certain “state secrets” out of the judiciary.

“We brought this case to try and get a declaration from the judiciary that the executive branch is bound by the law,” said Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer who represented the charity, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation.

The judge awarded more than $2.5 million in legal expenses accrued by lawyers for Asim Ghafoor and Wendell Belew, officials with Al-Haramain’s Oregon affiliate who the judge said were wiretapped, and he awarded the two officials each $20,400 in damages.

Judge Walker refused to grant punitive damages based on the claim that the wiretapping under the National Security Agency program showed “reckless or callous indifference” to the plaintiffs’ rights. Judge Walker said that the government “had reason to believe” that Al-Haramain supported acts of terrorism.

However, he criticized the way that Bush officials went about approving in secret a wiretapping program that operated outside the bounds of judicial scrutiny and in conflict with surveillance rules set by Congress.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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