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Obama tries to stop wiretapping suit

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    Court rejects Obama bid to stop wiretapping suit By Delvin Barrett Associated Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2009
      Court rejects Obama bid to stop wiretapping suit
      By Delvin Barrett
      Associated Press

      Washington - The Obama administration has lost its argument that a
      potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit
      challenging the government's warrantless wiretapping program.

      A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday rejected the
      Justice Department's request for an emergency stay in a case involving
      a defunct Islamic charity.

      Yet government lawyers signaled they would continue fighting to keep
      the information secret, setting up a new showdown between the courts
      and the White House over national security.

      The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it,
      claimed national security would be compromised if a lawsuit brought by
      the Oregon chapter of the charity, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, was
      allowed to proceed.

      Now, civil libertarians hope the case will become the first chance for
      a court to rule on whether the warrantless wiretapping program was
      legal or not. It cited the so-called state secrets privilege as a
      defense against the lawsuit.

      "All we wanted was our day in court and it looks like we're finally
      going to get our day in court," said Al-Haramain's lawyer, Steven
      Goldberg. "This case is all about challenging an assertion of power by
      the executive branch which is extraordinary."

      A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

      But hours after the appeals court made its decision, government
      lawyers filed new papers insisting they still did not have to turn
      over any sensitive information.

      "The government respectfully requests that the court refrain from
      further actions to provide plaintiffs with access to classified
      information," said the filing, suggesting the Obama administration may
      appeal the matter again to keep the information secret and block the
      case from going forward.

      The decision by the three-judge appeals panel is a setback for the new
      Obama administration as it adopts some of the same positions on
      national security and secrecy as the Bush administration.

      Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a review of
      all state secrets claims that have been used to protect Bush
      administration anti-terrorism programs from lawsuits.

      Yet even as that review continues, the administration has invoked the
      privilege in several different cases, including the Al-Haramain matter.

      The case began when the Bush administration accidentally turned over
      documents to Al-Haramain attorneys. Lawyers for the defunct charity
      said the papers showed illegal wiretapping by the National Security

      The documents were returned to the government, which quickly locked
      them away, claiming they were state secrets that could threaten
      national security if released.

      Lawyers for Al-Haramain argued that they needed the documents to prove
      the wiretapping.

      The U.S. Treasury Department in 2004 designated the charity as an
      organization that supports terrorism before the Saudi Arabian
      government closed it. The Bush administration redesignated it in 2008,
      citing attempts to keep it operating.

      The 9th Circuit eventually agreed that the disputed documents were
      protected as state secrets. But the court ruled that the Oregon
      chapter of Al-Haramain could try to find another way to show it had
      standing to sue the government over domestic wiretapping.

      A number of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties
      Union, tried to sue the government over warrantless wiretapping but
      were denied standing because they could not show they were targeted.

      Ann Brick, a lawyer for the ACLU of Northern California, said the
      court has now crafted a way to review the issue in which "national
      security isn't put at risk, but the rule of law can still be observed."



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