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A federal judge on Wednesday said the George W. Bush administration illegally eavesdropped on the telephone conversations of two American lawyers who represented a now-defunct Saudi charity.
The lawyers alleged some of their 2004 telephone conversations to Saudi Arabia were siphoned to the National Security Agency without warrants. The allegations were initially based on a classified document the government accidentally mailed to the former Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation lawyers. The document was later declared a state secret and removed from the long-running lawsuit weighing whether a sitting U.S. president may create a spying program to eavesdrop on Americans’ electronic communications without warrants
“Plaintiffs must, and have, put forward enough evidence to establish a prima facie case that they were subjected to warrantless electronic surveillance,” U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled, in a landmark decision. Even without the classified document, the judge said he believed the lawyers “were subjected to unlawful electronic surveillance” (.pdf) in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires warrants in terror investigations.
It’s the first ruling addressing how Bush’s once-secret spy program was carried out against American citizens. Other cases considered the program’s overall constitutionality, absent any evidence of specific eavesdropping.