SAN FRANCISCO: A US federal judge Wednesday deemed "unlawful" the 2004 electronic surveillance of an Islamic foundation that the Bush administration suspected was supporting terrorism.
US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker for the northern district of California ruled the Al-Haramain charity had provided "sufficient non-classified evidence" to support its claim that they were submitted to "unlawful electronic surveillance" by the government.
The same judge last year rejected an argument by the administration of President Barack Obama — George W. Bush’s successor — that it was immune from prosecution in the case on national security grounds.
Wednesday’s judgment was reached without using classified evidence, as the Obama administration had denied the Islamic foundation’s lawyers access to any classified information on the case, "even after top secret clearances" were obtained for them, the judge said.
The Bush administration had alleged that the Saudi-based Al-Haramain charity’s office in the US state of Oregon was a front for terrorism, and secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the charity’s international calls and emails.
The wiretaps lacked authority from a special court set up to watch over government wiretapping operations inside the United States, as provided for under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.
Al-Haramain’s attorneys discovered the illegal wiretaps when the government inadvertently turned over secret phone logs to them. The logs were subsequently returned to the government, but Al-Haramain sued.
On Thursday, Walker ruled that the US government "failed to meet their burden… to come forward… with evidence that a FISA warrant was obtained, that plaintiffs were not surveilled or that the surveillance was otherwise lawful."
Attorney General Eric Holder’s office was not immediately available for comment on the court ruling.
Obama was criticized last year by an Al-Haramain lawyer for refusing to change course on the wiretapping case begun under his predecessor.
The Saudi government dissolved Al-Haramain in October 2004.