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NSA wiretaps in Oregon eco case?

Even though it is in the Willamette Week, below is the first MSM article to address the NSA issue, which will be big news in this case.

Judge Aiken has ordered a response from the governement on the issue by September 15th.

For more on the issue, check out the report from the August 22nd evidentiary hearing in the case:
Terror-fying The Greens
Did investigators use post-9/11 warrantless wiretaps to bust accused eco-saboteurs?

A federal judge in Eugene wants to know whether the government used warrantless wiretaps to investigate a group of radical environmentalists charged with committing more than a dozen acts of sabotage in Oregon and the West between 1996 and 2001.

Since indictments were issued last year, six defendants have brokered plea agreements in exchange for testimony, leaving four non-cooperating witnesses headed for trial, three fugitives and one defendant who committed suicide in jail.

The mainstream media paid no attention to U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken's ruling last week telling federal prosecutors to respond to questions about surveillance.

But it's significant for two reasons. First, it makes way for a new challenge to the Bush administration's hotly controversial warrantless surveillance programs. The administration insists that it has the constitutional authority to spy on terrorists without judges' approval; this case would most likely provide the first challenge to that stance involving a domestic "terror" case.

Second, the issue could ultimately unravel the high-profile charges against a group of activists associated with the Earth Liberation Front, which the government has portrayed as one of the most serious "terrorist" threats to domestic tranquility.

"It's going to be embarrassing...for the government if they find out they've used warrantless surveillance," says Lewis & Clark Law School professor John Parry, who specializes in criminal and constitutional law. "They're going to have some explaining to do."

Facing Aiken's Sept. 12 deadline, the government may simply refuse to respond, most likely citing something called the state secret privilege—a tactic Aiken may or may not buy.

If the government does testify that it used warrantless surveillance, the judge will have a chance to rule on the big question: whether the wiretaps, approved with nothing more than the president's OK, violate Fourth Amendment guarantees to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

If the judge rules that investigators' methods broke the law, then the resulting evidence could be excluded. Depending on how much evidence was gathered—directly or indirectly—through the use of warrantless wiretaps or other electronic surveillance, prosecutors may have a hard time continuing their case.

"The entire case could be thrown out," says Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, which has assisted in the defense.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer said he could not comment on the case.

The Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program came to light in a New York Times report in December 2005. The paper reported that shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush gave the go-ahead for federal investigators to eavesdrop, without a warrant from a judge, on Americans' electronic communications with people overseas. The administration is adamant that it has the constitutional authority to snoop on international terrorists—and though the Eugene eco-sabotage case appears to be an entirely domestic matter, investigators have made a point of alleging that ELF has international connections.

Since news of the warrantless wiretaps broke, dozens of civil lawsuits have been filed against the Adminstration, including one by an Oregon-based Islamic charity, decrying the program as a slap at civil liberties. Two weeks ago, a federal district court judge in Detroit issued the first opinion in a civil case declaring the program unconstitutional.

The criminal case in Eugene presents an advantage to the defense not offered in the civil matters: If warrantless surveillance was indeed used, the government, not the defendants, bears the burden of proof. The prosecutors must show that illegal means weren't used to gather evidence.

In motions before Aiken, defense attorneys have asserted that the government's repeated references to terrorism are a strong sign that warrantless surveillance played a role in the investigation.

Last May, a deputy assistant director of the FBI testified before Congress that the ELF and the related Animal Liberation Front represent "one of today's most serious domestic terrorism threats." The "terror" label made investigators' jobs easier in the Oregon case, giving them access to terrorism task forces and interstate warrants.

Of course, the defendants haven't actually been charged with terrorism. Instead, the indictment lists arson, conspiracy, use of a destructive device and destruction of an energy facility. But court documents repeatedly refer to the crimes as acts of terrorism, and federal prosecutors have sought sentence "enhancements" earmarked for offenses involving terrorism.

So why include eco-saboteurs under the banner of terrorism? For one, it may be easier to bag an "eco-terrorist" than a member of an al Qaeda cell. And as the definition of "terror" grows, the zeal to guard against it may spread to other crimes.

"If you can do [warrantless surveillance] for these guys, who can't you do it for?" Parry says. "If this is part of the war on terror, then I think this is a much broader war than anyone ever imagined."

Originally Published on 8/30/2006

Find this story at www.wweek.com/editorial/3243/7938

homepage: homepage: http://www.greenscare.org

Judge drops Padilla terror charge 06.Sep.2006 06:46


Looks to me like judges are paying attention to what the government is really doing and how they are charging people.

 link to www.cnn.com

Padilla, codefendants faced double jeopardy, ruling says

Monday, August 21, 2006; Posted: 5:57 p.m. EDT (21:57 GMT)

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A federal judge in Miami on Monday dismissed a terror count against Jose Padilla, the U.S. citizen once identified as a "dirty bomb" suspect and detained as an "enemy combatant."

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said in a written opinion that the charge -- conspiracy to "murder, kidnap and maim persons in a foreign country" -- duplicated other counts in a federal grand jury indictment handed down last year.

"An indictment is multiplicitous when it charges a single offense multiple times, in separate counts," Cooke wrote. As charged, she added, the indictment exposes Padilla and his co-defendants to multiple punishments for a single crime.

The indictment, Cooke noted, "alleges one and only one conspiracy" and that the same facts are "re-alleged in each of the consecutive counts."

Cooke also ruled that a second count against Padilla and his co-defendants was "duplicitous" -- charging them with the same offense under two sections of federal law. She ordered the government to choose between the two counts, which provide for different penalties, by Friday.

The counts in question are conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, and providing material support to terrorists.

"We stand by the charges in this indictment and will respond after a full review of the court's order," U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said.

Padilla has pleaded not guilty to the indictment, and a trial is scheduled early next year.

Padilla was arrested in May 2002 returning from overseas at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. He initially was detained as a material witness in the investigation of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

President Bush designated him an enemy combatant the next month and turned him over to the military.

Padilla, who the government alleges has al Qaeda ties, was added to the South Florida indictment in November. Two co-defendants -- Adham Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi -- also have pleaded not guilty.

A fourth defendant, Mohamed Hesham Yousef, is in custody in Egypt. The whereabouts of a fifth defendant, Kassem Daher, is not known.

The indictment alleges the men belonged to a North American terrorist support cell and intended to carry out jihad, or holy war, in foreign countries.

Padilla was originally accused of -- but never charged with -- being a potential "dirty bomber," plotting to detonate a crude radioactive device in the United States, and later scheming to blow up apartment buildings using natural gas.

The Brooklyn-born Padilla has previously served prison terms for juvenile murder in Illinois and gun possession in Florida. He converted to Islam when he moved to Egypt in 1998, taking the name Abdullah al-Muhajir.

According to the government, Padilla trained at al Qaeda military camps in Afghanistan in 2000, after being recruited by a Yemeni man he met on a pilgrimage to Mecca.