Illegally Wiretapped Lawyers Submit Bill for $612k in Damages

Two American lawyers and an Islamic charity have submitted their bill for damages following a federal court ruling the Bush Administration subjected them and Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation to illegal wiretapping. The tab as of now (not including attorneys' fees and costs): $612,000.

Judge Vaughn Walker ruled on March 31 (pdf) they were victims of Bush's NSA warrantless electronic surveillance program in violation of FISA, had directed them to submit a statement with their damages. On Friday, they filed this pleading (pdf).

The lawyers and the charity were illegally wiretapped for 204 days. Their bill reflects actual damages at the rate of $100 per day for each day of violation, pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 1810(a). In addition, there are punitive damages of of $183,600 for each of the three plaintiffs pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 1810(b). [More...]

In addition, counsel for the plaintiffs will receive reasonable attorney’s fees and other investigation and litigation costs pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 1810©.

Who is liable?

BARACK H. OBAMA, President of the United States; NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY and KEITH B. ALEXANDER, its Director, in his official capacity; OFFICE OF FOREIGN ASSETS CONTROL, an office of the United States Treasury, and ADAM J. SZUBIN, its Director, in his official capacity; and FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION and ROBERT S. MUELLER III, its Director, in his official capacity.

The document specifies that Mueller is not liable in his individual capacity. Since all are liable in their official capacity only, this means we pay the bill.

The order may also provide that the Government cannot use the information it illegally obtained, or any evidence derived from it, in any government proceeding. That's more likely than the money award to discourage the Government from continuing their misconduct. It also shows how important the exclusionary rule is.

As further equitable relief, and pursuant to the Court’s authority under 50 U.S.C. § 1806(g) to order suppression of evidence obtained in violation of FISA, it is adjudged and ordered that information obtained by means of plaintiffs’ unlawful electronic surveillance shall not be used by the United States government, either directly or derivatively, in any administrative, civil, or criminal proceeding in which the United States is a party.

Upon the final resolution of all such proceedings potentially involving such information, all files and records containing such information shall be purged and destroyed, except to the extent that defendants may have an existing legal obligation to preserve exculpatory evidence.

Who was it that said "The criminal is to go free because the constable has blundered?" It was Justice Cardozo in 1926, then chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, in People v. Defore, 150 N.E. 585, 587 (N.Y. 1926). (He was not a fan of the blanket policy, at least not in that case, but in Mapp v. Ohio in 1961 the Supreme Court said such reasoning had been "largely vitiated" by later decisions.)

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    Let me understand (1.00 / 0) (#2)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Apr 18, 2010 at 05:11:37 PM EST
    The government in 2004 was intercepting the telephone communications of lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor. They were counsel to a Saudi charity, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which the government has declared a terror organization.

    The lawyers are seeking $204,000 each, in addition to $204,000 for the charity, whose U.S. assets are frozen because of its terror designation. Judge Walker did not immediately rule on the request.

    So we now have a claim on the purse of the people to give money to an organization that has been declared a terrorist organization.

    Something about this seems totally distorted. If the organization is a terrorist organization we, as a country and a society, would be totally stupid to give it anything.

    And while the lawyers involved, apparently, were involved in the designation litigation only, it would appear to me that their claim is moot because:

    Under Bush's so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program, which The New York Times disclosed in December 2005, the NSA was eavesdropping on Americans' telephone calls without warrants if the government believed the person on the other line was overseas and associated with terrorism. Congress, with the vote of Barack Obama -- who was a U.S. senator from Illinois at the time -- subsequently authorized such warrantless spying in the summer of 2008.

    So if the government forgave itself and the telephone companies, how can it be guilty of anything?

    Now I realize that I am not a lawyer and I am not arguing law and undoubtedly can be shown to be legally incorrect in numerous ways.

    But common sense has to come into play sooner or later. And things like this is the root cause of Tea Parties and the sudden rise of citizens saying, "No."

    no changing the subject (5.00 / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Apr 18, 2010 at 06:39:03 PM EST
    to tea partiers. This is about the wiretap ruling and case, and NSA warrantless electronic surveillance.

    Back to the subject... (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by diogenes on Sun Apr 18, 2010 at 08:45:12 PM EST
    So, DID Obama vote for a bill and did Congress pass a bill which would have made this type of surveillance without a warrant completely legal as of 2008?
    If so, then maybe Bush was simply ahead of his time.

    The money is (none / 0) (#1)
    by Zorba on Sun Apr 18, 2010 at 04:07:04 PM EST
    negligible for the government (peanuts, in fact).  I would bet that the Feds would be happy to spend $600,000+ any time they wanted to use illegally obtained evidence (if they were allowed to).  Far more important, as you said, would be the exclusion of any evidence obtained in any future proceedings.