Islamic charity asks court to enforce privilege rules

PORTLAND — The attorney for a defunct Islamic charity has asked a federal judge to prohibit the Bush administration from intercepting communications protected by the attorney-client privilege.

Tom Nelson, the attorney for the Oregon chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, filed a request for a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court on Thursday, claiming the federal government has intercepted privileged communications between the foundation and its lawyers.

The Oregon chapter was started by Ashland activist Pete Seda in 1998. In 2005 Seda was indicted on money-laundering and tax-evasion charges after allegedly helping smuggle $150,000 from Ashland to Saudi Arabia in 2000 to help Chechen Muslims, later labeled as terrorists by the U.S. government. Seda is awaiting an April trial on the charges.

The foundation is at the center of a case that may be the strongest challenge to the warrantless wiretapping program that President Bush authorized after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The government accidentally turned over a top secret National Security Agency call log to foundation lawyers, who said it showed the NSA intercepted calls between the foundation director, Soliman al-Buthi, a Saudi Arabian national, and two of its attorneys in Washington, D.C.

Nelson said in his preliminary injunction request that foundation attorneys believe the U.S. Treasury Department listed Al-Haramain as a "specially designated global terrorist" in September 2004 based on the intercepted calls.

"Not only did they do the wiretapping, they imposed a sanction based upon the material in the wiretap," Nelson said. "That stands traditional common law and traditional constitutional law on its head."

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman in Washington, D.C., said officials could not comment on pending litigation.

The injunction request says that Lynne Bernabei, another foundation attorney, wrote to a Justice Department attorney, Andrea Gacki, asking for written confirmation that privileged communications were not being monitored.

Gacki wrote in response that: "The United States government cannot publicly confirm or deny whether your clients' communications are being intercepted by classified means."

As a result, the foundation attorneys said they have "a reasonable suspicion" the government is monitoring their privileged communications.

Such monitoring violates attorney-client privilege, and it also violates their ethical duty toward clients and the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel, according to the memorandum filed in support of the injunction.

Share This Story