U.S. judge awards Islamic charity damages

Dec. 22, 2010 at 9:28 AM
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SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- A federal judge ordered the U.S. government to pay $40,800 in damages and $2.5 million in legal fees for illegally wiretapping an Islamic organization.

Even though the government had classified Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation as a terrorist organization, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said the group's lawyers achieved a "vindication of civil rights" by challenging the warrantless wiretapping that was part of President George W. Bush's secret surveillance program, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.

In March, Walker ruled that federal agents illegally listened to Al-Haramain, a charity, and two of its lawyers during a terrorism investigation in 2004. Tuesday's order ends Walker's work on the case and allows the Obama administration to appeal the ruling.

The administration argued that the suit posed a threat to state secrets and national security. However, the Justice Department did not indicate whether it would ask higher courts to uphold the surveillance.

Jon Eisenberg, the foundation's lead attorney, said the Obama administration "has embraced the power grab and abusive litigation tactics of the Bush administration" in the matter.

Unlike all other challengers of the surveillance program, the defunct charity, had a document it said was evidence that the charity was wiretapped. While it was barred from using the document in its lawsuit, Walker ruled in March that the organization had presented enough public evidence to show that it had been the target of illegal surveillance.

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