2 federal lawsuits attempt to halt surveillance program
ACLU and others accuse Bush of illegal wiretaps
NEW YORK -- Federal lawsuits were filed yesterday seeking to halt President Bush's domestic surveillance program, calling it an ''illegal and unconstitutional program" of electronic eavesdropping on American citizens.
The lawsuits accusing Bush of exceeding his constitutional powers were filed in federal court in New York by the Center for Constitutional Rights and in Detroit by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The New York suit, filed on behalf of the center and individuals, names Bush, the head of the National Security Agency, and the heads of the other major security agencies, challenging the NSA's surveillance of people within the United States without judicial approval or statutory authorization.
It asked a judge to stop Bush and government agencies from conducting warrantless surveillance of communications in the United States.
Besides the ACLU, plaintiffs in the Detroit suit, which also names the NSA, include the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Greenpeace, and several individuals.
Messages seeking comment were left yesterday morning with the National Security Agency and the Justice Department.
Bush, who said the wiretapping is legal and necessary, has pointed to a congressional resolution passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that authorized him to use force in the fight against terrorism as allowing him to order the program. The program authorized eavesdropping on international phone calls and e-mails of people deemed a terror risk.
But the New York lawsuit contended that federal law already allows the president to conduct warrantless surveillance during the first 15 days of a war and court authorization of surveillance for agents of foreign powers or terrorist groups.
Instead of following the law, Bush ''unilaterally and secretly authorized electronic surveillance without judicial approval or congressional authorization," the lawsuit said.
At a news conference, Bill Goodman, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, portrayed the president as a man on an unprecedented power grab at the expense of basic democratic principles. He said the public was starting to understand the assertion that the erosion of individual rights is a slippery slope that lets the government ''brand anyone a terrorist with no right to counsel, no right to be brought before a judge, and no right to privacy in communications."
The Detroit lawsuit said the plaintiffs, who frequently communicate by telephone and e-mail with people in the Middle East and Asia, have a ''well-founded belief" that their communications are being intercepted by the government. ''By seriously compromising the free speech and privacy rights of the plaintiffs and others, the program violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution," the lawsuit states.
In its suit in New York, the Center for Constitutional Rights maintained its work was directly affected, that its attorney-client privilege was probably violated as it represented hundreds of men detained as ''enemy combatants."