Friday, September 29, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Friday, September 29, 2023 | Back issues
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$2.5M Awarded Over Feds’|Warrantless Wiretaps

(CN) A San Francisco federal judge granted two attorneys $20,400 each in liquidated damages, plus $2.5 million in attorneys' fees, late Tuesday after ruling nine months ago that the government violated federal domestic surveillance laws by spying on the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declined to pay liquidated damages to the charity, or punitive damages to any of the plaintiffs.

He also denied issuing declarations that the warrantless electronic surveillance violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or to expunge any information the surveillance produced. The charity and attorneys had asked for an order barring the U.S. from using any of the information it obtained in future proceedings, but Walker denied the request.

The two lawyers, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, who are U.S. citizens, can also collect $2.5 million in attorneys' fees.

The government admittedly relied on the surveillance of phone conversations between the nonprofit's lawyers and an Al-Haramain director in Saudi Arabia when it designated the group as a terrorist organization associated with Osama bin Laden.

According to the March ruling, Walker found Al-Haramain presented ample evidence in the form of public documents and statements from FBI officials proving that "the program itself is not a secret," and the government provided no evidence to refute.

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