Al-Haramain challenges government's evidence


The American arm of an Islamic organization the U.S. government says helped terrorists is in federal court in Portland to challenge the restrictions it's under.

Lawyers for Al-Haramain and the Justice Department argued Thursday over whether the federal government had good enough evidence to declare its Oregon branch a "specially designated terrorist organization."

Much of the evidence is classified, so it wasn't discussed in the hearing before Judge Garr King.

The judge has the secret material, though. He says it may be some time before he rules.

Al-Haramain was headquartered in Saudi Arabia, which has shut it down.

One of its branches was in Ashland, directed by local activist Pete Seda. The U.S. government has seized its assets, selling the house where it had headquarters. Seda awaits trial on charges of money laundering and tax evasion after he allegedly helped smuggle $150,000 in cashier's and traveler's checks to Chechen Muslims in 2000.

Al-Haramain billed itself as an Islamic charity that undertook such relief as sending the Quran to prisoners or humanitarian aid to war zones.

The government alleges that the parent organization supported terror globally and was linked to the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Al-Haramain has butted against secrecy before. After the government inadvertently turned over what's described as a National Security Agency call log, federal agents reclaimed it. Federal judges said it was a state secret and couldn't be used or mentioned in court as Al-Haramain tried to prove the government illegally wiretapped the organization.

The importance of classified material was emphasized at the hearing Thursday.

The lawyer for Al-Haramain's Oregon branch argued that much of the public evidence is the government's own press releases. A government lawyer responded by urging King to read the classified information that supports the press releases.

The Al-Haramain lawyer, David Cole, complained that the government has made more evidence available, but 60 percent of the documentation remains blacked out. It's hard to challenge the government's evidence if you don't know what it is, Cole told King.

"I think you have to rely on the judge for that," King told Cole.

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