Islamic charity in Calif. wiretap case wants $612K


Lawyers for a now-defunct Islamic charity on Friday asked a judge for more than $600,000 in damages from the federal government after a judge ruled that authorities illegally wiretapped the charity's phone calls.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled last month that the Terrorist Surveillance Program authorized by President George W. Bush was illegal because it allowed investigators to eavesdrop on electronic communications without warrants. Walker concluded that the Ashland, Ore., arm of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation was subject to warrantless wiretaps in 2004.

The judge ordered the charity to submit a proposed damage amount.

On Friday, Al-Haramain's lawyers argued that the organization's two U.S. lawyers and the charity itself each should receive $204,000. In addition, the lawyers representing Al-Haramain want unspecified attorney fees.

Walker will decide the issue later.

The Oregon branch of Saudi Arabia-based Al-Haramain, and its lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, accused the government of monitoring their phone calls throughout 2004. They initially discovered the eavesdropping when Treasury Department officials mistakenly turned over a top secret document that appeared to be a call log.

Even though lawyers were ordered to give back the document and not rely on it in the lawsuit, they were still able to convince Walker with other evidence that they were warrantless wiretap targets.

Generally, government investigators are required to obtain search warrants signed by judges to eavesdrop on domestic phone calls, e-mail traffic and other electronic communications, but Bush authorized the surveillance program shortly after 9/11, allowing the National Security Agency to bypass the courts and intercept electronic communications believed connected to al-Qaida.

Treasury Department officials had formally categorized the Oregon organization as a supporter of terrorism.

But in his ruling last month, Walker said that government authorities must obtain search warrants. Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress this week that the Department of Justice was determining whether to appeal Walker's decision.

The surveillance program ended in 2007.

April 18, 2010, The Associated Press

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