Judge orders feds to pay $2.5M in wiretapping case

Paul Elias
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the U.S. government to pay more than $2.5 million in attorney fees and damages after he concluded investigators wiretapped the phones of a suspected terrorist organization without a warrant.

U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker said the attorneys for the Ashland, Ore., chapter of the now-defunct Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation should receive $2.5 million for waging its nearly five-year legal challenge to the Bush administration’s so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Walker also awarded $20,400 each to Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, two of the foundation’s Washington D.C.-based lawyers. They had their phone conversations with Al-Haramain principals monitored, the judge said.

“The system worked,” Ghafoor said. “And we really hope that the government lets this stand and writes it off as a bad program from a previous administration..”

Earlier this year the judge found that investigators illegally intercepted the electronic communications without warrants. Government lawyers have refused throughout the litigation to disclose whether investigators eavesdropped, “although the fact of such surveillance is not in doubt,” the judge concluded.

The Department of Justice lawyer who defended the program in court for the Bush administration and then the Obama administration, Anthony J. Coppolino, didn’t return a phone call late Tuesday.

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