By Mary Ostberg, NSJ Staff Editor –
On Wednesday, March 31st, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit’s Northern District of California, granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs in a suit against the U.S. government brought by the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation (“Al-Haramain”).
The Oregon nonprofit corporation and two of its attorneys, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, sued high-ranking U.S. officials and associated government agencies in early 2006, alleging they had been subject to warrantless electronic surveillance. The plaintiffs sought civil damages under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801-71 (“FISA”). In response, the government argued that the state secrets privilege required the dismissal of the case.
In his 45-page opinion, Judge Walker stated that the plaintiffs had produced enough public information to prove that Al-Haramain had been wiretapped in a manner that required a warrant and since the government had failed to produce such a warrant, summary judgment for the plaintiffs was appropriate. Rejecting the government’s state secrets argument, Judge Walker stated that in this case, the FISA law trumped the state secrets claim.
Jon Eisenberg, an attorney for the plaintiffs, stated that his clients have proof of at least 202 days of surveillance and that the law allows penalties of $100 a day per violation per person, as well as additional, punitive damages. Mr. Eisenberg said, however, that the case is not about recovering money, but about “presidential power. Kings, monarchs are above the law, not United States presidents; they don’t have the freedom to ignore the act of Congress.”
The Department of Justice has not announced whether it will appeal the March 31st ruling.
Image courtesy of ars technica