Thursday, April 01, 2010

Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal.

At last someone officially says it:

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the National Security Agency’s program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration’s effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush.

In a 45-page opinion, Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that the government had violated a 1978 federal statute requiring court approval for domestic surveillance when it intercepted phone calls of Al Haramain, a now-defunct Islamic charity in Oregon, and of two lawyers representing it in 2004. Declaring that the plaintiffs had been “subjected to unlawful surveillance,” the judge said the government was liable to pay them damages.

The judge ruled that the expansive use of the state secrets privilege amounted to "unfettered executive-branch discretion” that had “obvious potential for governmental abuse and overreaching.”

That position, he said, would enable government officials to flout the warrant law, even though Congress had enacted it “specifically to rein in and create a judicial check for executive-branch abuses of surveillance authority.”

The lawyers have had to jump through extraordinary hoops to get this far, in effect proving that their clients had been illegally spied upon by a government that cried, "State secrets" every time they attempted to prove their case.

The ruling is the second time a federal judge has declared the program of wiretapping without warrants to be illegal. But a 2006 decision by a federal judge in Detroit, Anna Diggs Taylor, was reversed on the grounds that those plaintiffs could not prove that they had been wiretapped and so lacked legal standing to sue.

Although the plaintiffs in the Haramain case were not allowed to use the document to prove that they had standing, Mr. Eisenberg and six other lawyers working on the case were able to use public information — including a 2007 speech by an F.B.I. official who acknowledged that Al Haramain had been placed under surveillance — to prove it had been wiretapped.

Judge Walker’s opinion cataloged other such evidence and declared that the plaintiffs had shown they were wiretapped in a manner that required a warrant. He said the government had failed to produce a warrant, so he granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.

It's been an extraordinarily long journey, made more difficult every step of the way by the decision of the Bush regime to claim "state secrets" would be exposed if the lawyers were given any access to government files. A practice rather shamefully defended by the Obama administration.

The plaintiffs will now sue for damages. But, at last, a court has said what the Bush regime always denied was true. Their activities were illegal. In order to listen to suspected persons conversations, a warrant was required. And the Bush regime didn't even bother asking for one. And they didn't ask for one because of Dick Cheney's crazy ideas about executive power. The court has ruled that Cheney was flat out wrong. That's a victory for common sense.

Click here for full article.

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