Judge threatens sanctions over government wiretapping

By Paul Elias

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge on Friday threatened to severely sanction the Obama Administration for withholding a top secret document he ordered given to lawyers suing the government over its warrantless wiretapping program.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco ordered Justice Department lawyers to court on June 3 to tell him why he shouldn't award unspecified damages to the now-defunct Oregon arm of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, once based in Ashland. The group alleges that government officials eavesdropped on their telephone calls without court authorization.

The National Security Agency has also refused the judge's previous orders to provide security clearances to two of the charity's lawyers so they can view the top secret document.

The judge had issued a written order on Jan. 5 and then reinforced it during a hearing later that month. He also barred the prosecutors from appealing the order, but they asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to step in anyway. The appeals court refused to hear the case.

On May 15, government lawyers told Walker they would refuse to comply with his order.

"Enough is enough," said Jon Eisenberg, the charity's lead appellate attorney. "The DOJ has been so uncooperative for so long that this Draconian approach is now needed."

The lead prosecutor couldn't be reached in Washington Friday.

The charity's officer, Soliman al-Buthi, claims he uncovered the alleged wiretapping when a Treasury Department official accidentally turned over a top secret call log to Al-Haramain's lawyers.

Another federal judge ordered the lawyers to return the document to the government. In January, Walker ordered the charity's access to the document after its lawyers showed numerous public statements from high-ranking intelligence officials discussing the government's warrantless wiretapping program.

The Al-Haramain case was transferred to Walker along with about 40 other lawsuits accusing several telecommunication companies of supporting the government's Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Congress granted immunity to the telecommunication companies last year, essentially killing their eavesdropping lawsuits and leaving before Walker the Al-Haramain case as the only surviving legal challenge to the government's eavesdropping program.

The Obama Administration picked up where the Bush Administration left off in urging Walker to toss out the three-year old lawsuit as harmful to national security and state secrets.

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