This is a pretty disturbing story, but it’s long overdue that we start getting some answers:
A Congressional oversight panel plans to ask the National Security Agency to start an investigation into new evidence that the agency illegally wiretapped a Muslim scholar in Northern Virginia and concealed the eavesdropping during a 2005 trial in which the scholar was convicted on terrorism charges.
Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, said in an interview that he planned to ask the inspector general of the N.S.A. to open what would be the first formal investigation by the agency into whether its eavesdropping program had improperly interfered with an American’s right to a fair trial.
Mr. Holt said he was responding to new evidence presented to him and other Congressional leaders by the Muslim scholar’s lawyer indicating that the Bush administration tried to hide the full extent of the government’s illegal spying in the criminal case.
Good for Congressman Holt on trying to get some answers here. This is troubling on a few levels. First, the issue of the wiretapping but second, the fact they covered it up at the trial is seems like a tacit admission that they knew their activities were out of bounds. Some more background:
The scholar, Ali al-Timimi, once a spiritual leader in Northern Virginia and described by prosecutors as a “rock star” in the Islamic fundamentalist world, is now serving a life sentence in federal prison after he was convicted in 2005 on charges of inciting his Muslim followers to commit acts of violence overseas.
Prosecutors described Mr. Timimi as the spiritual mentor to a group of young men in Northern Virginia who were convicted of giving material support in Kashmir to Lashkar-e-Taiba – the separatist group blamed by the Indian authorities for the recent attacks in Mumbai. Several of the Northern Virginia men had received paramilitary training in Pakistan, apparently at the urging of Mr. Timimi, but there was no evidence that they had taken part in any terrorist attacks.
Mr. Timimi’s lawyers maintain that the N.S.A., without acquiring court-approved warrants, used the eavesdropping operation approved by President Bush weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks to wiretap his communications, and that the interceptions might include evidence that would point to his innocence in what they regard as a free-speech case. They charge that the government has intentionally withheld that material despite repeated requests.
The Justice Department has denied that it had any other evidence of eavesdropping against him other than what it turned over to his lawyers. But the federal judge in the case, Leonie M. Brinkema in Alexandria, Va., has expressed increasing annoyance over persistent questions about the N.S.A.’s possible role.
So the judge is tired of the NSA stalling and there was no evidence that the people he had mentored actually took part in any attacks. Despite the conviction, his Wikipedia page identifies his stance against terrorism:
Dr. Al-Tamimi was noted for being against terrorism, both in public and in private. He has been quoted as saying:
“If you consider this, then we can frankly say that certain acts of violence perpetrated by Muslims against non-combatant unbelievers over the last ten or fifteen years clearly contradict Islam. It is exceedingly important that Muslims are the first and foremost to condemn and reject such actions.”
“As at the time of the sending of the prophet Muhammad, the weapons employed in Arabia were simple sword, javelin, arrows, and so forth. It was only much later that the use of the catapult and the cannon became prevalent in warfare. The Muslim scholars writing at that time were in agreement that it was impermissible to use the catapult or the cannon against civilian populations. Their reasoning was that when laying siege to a city and you bombard it with catapults and cannons, this would necessarily result in the death of non-combatants. So therefore the Muslim army when laying siege to a city of a country to which they were at war, they should not use these weapons that in the modern times we would equate with weapons of mass destruction.”
His defense team has been trying to get things overturned for years and find some answers, separate from the new investigation:
Jonathan Turley, who is representing Ali al-Tamimi, persuaded the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to halt appellate proceedings January 24, 2006. The appellate court is considering whether to send the case back to the trial court to discover if the NSA warrantless surveillance was used to monitor Ali. If it does, Turley said, “the government would have to establish whether Dr. Al-Tamimi was intercepted under this or any other undisclosed operation, and the court could have to look at the legality of the whole operation
Separate from what happens with this case, past public reports point to the NSA wiretap program being larger than originally let on. I think at the very least, it would be good to start getting some answers about the scope of the actions the Government took in the name of protecting us.