Congress may not be interested in doing its job by investigating Chimpy’s illegal eavesdropping, but we still have the courts.
The company that publishes the Oregonian newspaper in Portland has filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Oregon to unseal documents in a pending case that alleges the Bush administration illegally intercepted international phone conversations between the codirector of an Islamic charity and his two lawyers in the United States.
In a motion filed Friday, lawyers for the Oregonian Publishing Co. argued that it is in the public interest to know the contents of documents that could prove the existence of a potentially illegal domestic spying program.
“This appears to be the first case in which documents have been filed with the court demonstrating the National Security Agency’s practice of wiretapping private conversations,” said Charles F. Hinkle, a lawyer for the publishing company. “We are not interested in the content of the attorney-client communications. We are interested in what the government did.”
Thomas Nelson, the lawyer for al-Haramain in this case, submitted the documents in February as part of a lawsuit filed against the administration alleging that the NSA illegally wiretapped conversations between the codirector of the charity, Soliman al-Buthe, and his former American lawyers and then used the intelligence to target the charity. Nelson says an abundance of caution prompted him to ask the judge to review the material under seal.
The complaint states that the government used the intercepted information against the charity, resulting in the designation of the charity and al-Buthe in September 2004 as terrorists. Then in February 2005, both were indicted for illegally taking the money out of the country. A federal judge last September dropped the case against the charity but preserved the government’s right to bring criminal charges against the organization in the future. Nelson points out that there has been no terrorism indictment against the charity or al-Buthe, who remains a fugitive.
The documents, Hinkle wrote, “may contain evidence of arguably unlawful conduct on the part of the U.S. government against U.S. citizens.”
As reported in U.S. News this week, Nelson and his family and colleagues believe that on numerous occasions, the government may have searched his premises without a proper warrant, though the U.S. attorney in Oregon has assured the lawyer that the FBI would not conduct a search without consent or a court order. The NSA has declined to provide Nelson any information.
Hinkle says the Oregonian and the public deserve full disclosure.
“If the government carried out an illegal and unconstitutional program,” he said, “then we think it’s very important that the public know about that. “