Andrew Grossman on the Al-Haramain ruling in San Francisco: State Secrets? Who Needs 'Em?
According to Judge Vaughn Walker, there’s no such thing as a state secret when the government’s foreign intelligence operations so much as touch U.S. soil. That’s a huge loophole for America’s enemies.
Let’s look at the case that led Judge Walker to his bizarre ruling. The plaintiff is the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, an outfit that even the United Nations has identified as an al-Qaeda front. This particular branch was located in Ashland, Oregon, and ran an Islamic school, Internet café, and money-transfer business. It also held itself out as a humanitarian charity helping poor Muslims in Africa and Asia.
Yet somehow, say diplomats, the alms kept winding up in terrorists’ hands. Money collected in Oregon helped finance terror attacks in Israel, Kenya, and Indonesia, among others, according to Associated Press reports. Their targets were frequently U.S. embassies and Americans.
Today, Al-Haramain is all but defunct in the United States. But one thing lives on: Its lawsuit to force federal agents to disclose the most sensitive details about how they were able to uncover its terrorist ties and shut it down.
Wednesday’s ruling is a huge step toward making that happen. Once it satisfies a few minor procedural hurdles, the court will lay out the particulars of how it can legally siphon top-secret information from the government and its private-sector helpers — mostly telecom providers like AT&T.
This was bound to happen sooner or later. Civil-liberties groups have brought over 40 suits like this against the government and the telecom firms, and many plaintiffs went shopping for sympathetic judges eager to strike a political blow against the Bush administration. Until now, these lawsuits were “just” an expensive nuisance that made the private sector wary of cooperating with government efforts to protect the American public. But now things stand to really get dangerous.
UPDATE at 7/4/08 3:10:46 pm:
This is an odd case where the reporting/spinning of the decision is contradictory: Suit accusing Bush of acting illegally tossed.
07-02) 18:56 PDT SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge in San Francisco dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to prove President Bush acted illegally in 2001 when he ordered the wiretapping of phone calls between Americans and suspected foreign terrorists without court approval.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said an Islamic charity on the government’s terrorist list could not use a crucial classified document - an accidentally released memo indicating the charity and its lawyers had been wiretapped - to show that it had been harmed by the surveillance program and thus had the right to challenge it in court. But the organization’s lawyer said he wasn’t giving up.
“We will now be marshalling all the nonclassified evidence we have to make our case,” attorney Jon Eisenberg said. “We believe we can make a solid showing.”
Walker gave lawyers for the now-defunct charity, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, 30 days to file a new lawsuit relying on publicly available evidence to show it could reasonably believe it had been wiretapped.