US government told to compensate Islamic charity

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

WASHINGTON - A US court has asked the government to pay compensation to an Islamic charity after it was found that then president George W. Bush had ordered wire-tapping of the organisation after the 9/11 attack.

Tuesday’s ruling by Justice Vaughn R. Walker, the chief federal judge in San Francisco, ordered the government to pay $2.6 million in lawyers’ fees and damages to officials of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in Oregon.

The judge said the officials were wiretapped without a court order under a surveillance programme approved by Bush after the Sep 11, 2001, terror attack, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

He awarded more than $2.5 million in legal expenses to Asim Ghafoor and Wendell Belew, officials with Al-Haramain, who the judge said were wiretapped. He awarded the two officials each $20,400 in damages.

The “years-long” lawsuit tested the balance between civil liberties and the president’s authority, the report said.

Though the dollar amount of damages was “relatively insignificant for the government”, the principle laid out by the judge was “critical to all parties”.

For the charity officials and their lawyers, “the ruling offered vindication in a case that the Justice Department fought largely by relying on the president’s executive power”.

“We brought this case to try and get a declaration from the judiciary that the executive branch is bound by the law,” said Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer who represented the foundation.

The judge, however, said the government “had reason to believe” that Al-Haramain supported acts of terrorism.

However, he criticised the way that Bush officials went about approving in secret a wire-tapping programme that operated outside the bounds of judicial scrutiny and in conflict with surveillance rules set by parliament.

Filed under: Terrorism

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