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Wednesday, March 1, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Suit: NSA illegally wiretapped attorneys

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — A lawsuit filed Tuesday asked a federal court to shut down electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency, based on claims the NSA illegally wiretapped conversations between the director of an Islamic charity and two of the charity's attorneys.

A chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now-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.

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, 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.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland had not yet seen the lawsuit but likely would be unable to comment, based on national-security concerns, said Barry Sheldahl, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut.

The complaint alleges the NSA did not follow procedures required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and failed to obtain a court order authorizing electronic surveillance of the charity and its attorneys.

The lawsuit also names the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, alleging it relied on information the NSA obtained without a warrant to designate the chapter in Oregon a "specially designated global terrorist" in September 2004.

The complaint notes that the former parent charity in Saudi Arabia has never been designated a terrorist organization.

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."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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