Al-Haramain Refiles Suit Against US Wiretapping

RIYADH: In yet another blow to the American terrorist surveillance program, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation (AHIF) has refiled a lawsuit in San Francisco federal court accusing the Bush administration of illegal wiretapping.

The suit follows the recent dismissal by a US court of the original lawsuit filed by the Oregon-based American branch of the now-defunct AHIF, which was declared a terrorist organization by the US Treasury Department in 2004.

“The refiling of the suit has asserted that the Bush administration had circumvented the US Constitution by authorizing wiretaps,” M. Wendell Belew, president of the Friends of Charities Association (FOCA), said yesterday.

Belew added that the AHIF has gone back to court, accusing the Bush administration of intercepting phone calls between AHIF’s Saudi directors and two of their US-based lawyers.

Although no future hearings have been set yet, the new suit has emboldened the morale and efforts of AHIF officials, their lawyers and FOCA office bearers. Belew also spoke about systematic persecution of Islamic charities, while strongly condemning the new US Treasury Department action against the Indonesian and Filipino branches of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) for “raising funds” for Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

“The US Treasury Department’s action against the IIRO further undermined American standing in the Arab-Muslim world by continuing what appears to many to be a war on Islam,” said Belew. In support of his contention that the current designation process produces ill will in the Arab-Muslim world, the FOCA chief pointed to a report from the non-profit advocacy project, OMB Watch, on “Muslim charities and the war on terror,” which accuses the US of bias.

The report, he said, states that “there is unequal enforcement of anti-terrorist laws in the US and that this treatment of Muslim charities hurts, rather than helps, the war on terrorism.” It added that the US Treasury Department’s refusal to meet IIRO officials over the past two and a half years created the impression that Treasury officials are more concerned with press releases than success in preventing the misuse of charities.

Referring to the refiling of the lawsuit, Belew said several public disclosures about the Bush administration’s surveillance program in general and about the AHIF’s role in particular could help Al-Haramain’s lawyers prove their case.

“The amended lawsuit filed today seeks to do that by quoting public statements made by US officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller,” said another report obtained by Arab News.

Commenting on the lawsuit, US Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller has been quoted in the report as saying: “We’re reviewing the lawsuit.”

Defendants in the lawsuit include President Bush, the National Security Agency, the FBI and other agencies and officials. Plaintiffs are the AHIF and two of its American lawyers, Belew and Asim Ghafoor, who say their calls to Al-Haramain officials in Saudi Arabia were tapped in 2004.

According to the report, the next step will be to ask the US judge, who threw out the last lawsuit, to consider examining the top-secret document as possible evidence under confidential procedures. While the US District Court Judge Vaughan Walker dismissed the original lawsuit, he left the door open for an amended lawsuit by ruling that the Bush administration could not use a state-secrets argument to seek the dismissal of a lawsuit, claiming a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The Al-Haramain case is one of about 45 domestic surveillance lawsuits from around the US that were consolidated in Walker’s court. Most others were filed against telecommunications companies rather than the government. Those cases appear to have been ended by the FISA amendments passed by Congress and signed by Bush giving the companies retroactive immunity from being sued. But, several groups represented by the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a lawsuit in the federal court in New York challenging the amendments.

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