Appeals Court Affirms Federal Power to Spy without a Warrant
Friday, August 10, 2012
Judge M. Margaret McKeown
A federal appeals court this week threw out an Islamic foundation’s million-dollar judgment against the federal government for illegally spying on it.
The Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation was awarded $2.5 million in 2010 by Judge Vaughn Walker, who ruled the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was instituted after 9/11 and halted in 2007, violated federal laws on domestic surveillance.
The U.S. Department of Justice appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the judgment because the three-judge panel found Walker erred in saying the government had waived its immunity from liability.
According to the Associated Press, the judges were “sympathetic” to the foundation’s case, and disputed the Justice Department’s claims that the plaintiffs filed an illegitimate lawsuit.
“In light of the complex, ever-evolving nature of this litigation, and considering the significant infringement on individual liberties that would occur if the Executive Branch were to disregard congressionally mandated procedures for obtaining judicial authorization of international wiretaps, the charge of ‘game-playing’ lobbed by the government is as careless as it is inaccurate,” wrote Judge M. Margaret
McKeown. “That their suit has ultimately failed does not in any way call into question the integrity with which they pursued it.”
Al-Haramain’s attorney said the judges’ words were “small consolation,” adding: “If this is the last word on warrantless wiretapping then it means that there will have been no accountability for it.”
The foundation may ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
Al-Haramain was designated a terrorist organization linked to Osama bin Laden after the government intercepted phone calls between the foundation’s lawyers, who were based in Oregon, and the director residing in Saudi Arabia. Its assets were later frozen, and the foundation is now defunct.
To Learn More:
Court Vacates $2.5M Award Over Feds’ Spying (by Annie Youderian, Courthouse News)
Court Overturns Wiretap Ruling Against Feds (by Paul Elias, Associated Press)
9th Circuit Torpedoes Verdict in Wiretapping Case Brought by Islamic Charity (by Scott Graham, The Recorder)
Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. U.S. (U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit) (pdf)
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