Thursday, March 02, 2006

The NSA and the 'rule of law'

Torrid Joe at Loaded Orygun points out a potentially significant development in southern Oregon regarding the NSA surveillance scandal.

Namely, it now appears that at least one activist group claims it was harmed by the wiretapped conversations between the director of an Islamic charity and two attorneys, and has filed a suit to shut the program down:
A chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a defunct Saudi Arabian charity, was established in Ashland in 1997 as a prayer house that also distributed Islamic literature. The chapter was indicted in February 2004 on tax charges alleging it helped launder $150,000 in donations to help al-Qaida fighters in Chechnya in 2000.

Attorneys for the Al-Haramain chapter have insisted the money was used only for charities. But federal prosecutors had claimed in the indictment the money could have been used to assist Muslim militants.

Prosecutors later asked a federal judge to dismiss the charges against the Ashland chapter of the charity. The request was granted last September, over the objections of attorneys for Al-Haramain, who wanted the government to show what evidence it had against the charity.

Of particular note is the fact that both the caller and the persons receiving the calls were within the United States:
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland alleges the NSA illegally wiretapped electronic communications between the chapter and Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, both attorneys in Washington, D.C.

The complaint, which also names President Bush as a defendant, seeks "an order that would require defendants and their agents to halt an illegal and unconstitutional program of electronic surveillance of United States citizens and entities."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the two Washington attorneys and the Al-Haramain chapter by three Portland civil rights lawyers: Steven Goldberg, Zaha Hassan and Thomas Nelson.

Some of you will recall that Nelson was the attorney for Brandon Mayfield, the Portland lawyer who was falsely accused of conspiring in the Al Qaeda railway bombings in Madrid. He has something of a track record for winning these kinds of cases.

One of the other attorneys, though, got right to the heart of the matter:
Hassan said the case is about "whether we are prepared to accept after 9/11 that the executive branch of our government has unlimited and unchecked power to engage in unlawful activity at the expense of the civil rights of Americans."

"This is simply a case about the rule of law," Hassan said.

Ah, yes, the rule of law. I remember when it was all the rage.

But then, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out the other day, there are all kinds of longtime conservative values getting booted out the cargo door of their flaming dirigible of a movement these days.

When Republicans in Congress decided to impeach Bill Clinton back in 1998, we heard endless intonations regarding the "rule of law." It was even in the Articles of Impeachment:
In all of this, William Jefferson Clinton has undermined the integrity of his office, has brought disrepute on the Presidency, has betrayed his trust as President and has acted in a manner subversive of the rule of law and justice, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Bulldog Manifesto at DKos had a handy compilation of Clinton-era "rule of law" quotes a couple of months ago. My favorites:
Henry Hyde: "I suggest impeachment is like beauty: apparently in the eye of the beholder. But I hold a different view. And it's not a vengeful one, it's not vindictive, and it's not craven. It's just a concern for the Constitution and a high respect for the rule of law. ... as a lawyer and a legislator for most of my very long life, I have a particular reverence for our legal system. It protects the innocent, it punishes the guilty, it defends the powerless, it guards freedom, it summons the noblest instincts of the human spirit. The rule of law protects you and it protects me from the midnight fire on our roof or the 3 a.m. knock on our door."

James Sensenbrenner: "What is on trial here is the truth and the rule of law. Our failure to bring President Clinton to account for his lying under oath and preventing the courts from administering equal justice under law, will cause a cancer to be present in our society for generations. I want those parents who ask me the questions, to be able to tell their children that even if you are president of the United States, if you lie when sworn 'to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,' you will face the consequences of that action, even when you don't accept the responsibility for them."

This only scatches the surface. Among many others, there was notably this from the late Barbra Olson:
"I would not call myself a conservative if I thought the rule of law could be contorted and twisted to my own personal views."

Indeed, after the impeachment failed, a number of conservatives declared the rule of law dead because of Bill Clinton.

That's it! It's all Bill Clinton's fault! The Clenis Strikes Again! Aaaiiieeee!

I should've known.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that the wiretapped conversations apparently took place while the director of the charity was in Saudi Arabia, not in Oregon. So it appears that, in this case at least, it did not occur entirely as domestic surveillance.

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