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"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Bush faces legal double whammy in terror war
The News
By Shaheen Sehbai
December 2, 2006

WASHINGTON: Two court decisions in two days have seriously jeopardised President George W Bush's authority to carry out pre-emptive actions against anyone he suspects to be a terrorist or a collaborator inside the United States.

In the first judgment given by a known radical judge in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Bush's authority to designate groups as "terrorist organisations" was struck down while in another case in Portland, Oregon, the Bush administration on Wednesday agreed to pay two million dollars to a Muslim who was wrongly arrested and jailed by the FBI, suspected of being a terrorist.

Analysts said both the decisions hit the Bush strategy of dealing harshly with potential suspects hard, especially if they were Muslims or they belonged to any organisation which had suspected links to any terrorist outfit outside the US.

While the first decision to strike down the president's authority would definitely be challenged by the administration in higher courts, the payment of compensation to the converted Muslim and his family in Oregon would force the FBI to look more closely at suspects before taking action.

In Los Angeles US District Judge Audrey Collins struck down parts of the law to freeze the assets of terrorist organisations. In her 45-page judgment, she said it violated the Constitution because it put no apparent limit on the president's powers to place groups on that list. Bush signed that law on September 23, 2001, and used it against two organisations, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey.

The same judge had, in 2004, ruled that portions of the highly criticised and controversial Patriot Act were too vague and, even after Congress amended the act last year, she ruled the provisions remained too vague to be understood by a person of average intelligence and were therefore unconstitutional.

The judge's ruling stops the government from blocking the assets of the Tamil Tigers and a group representing the interests of Kurds in Turkey. Lawyers for the Humanitarian law project and other groups, like LTTE who filed the case, argued that by the federal anti-terrorism laws, charities and individual donors are put at the risk of being prosecuted by providing benign assistance to foreign groups that have been added to the US government's designated terrorism lists.

Ruling in a lawsuit brought against the Treasury Department in 2005 by the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Collins also threw out a portion of Bush's order which applied the law to those who associate with the designated organisations.

The Justice Department said it was pleased that the court had rejected the plaintiff's argument, challenging the administration's ban against providing services to groups deemed terrorist organisations. "However, we believe the court erred in finding that other aspects of the executive order were unconstitutional," said the Justice Department.

"This law gave the president unfettered authority to create blacklists," David Cole, a lawyer for the Washington-based Centre for Constitutional Rights that represented the group, said on Tuesday. "It was reminiscent of the McCarthy era and the judge's ruling does not invalidate the hundreds of other designated terrorist groups on the list but "calls them into question".

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice, said, "We are currently reviewing the decision and we have made no determination what the government's next step will be."

A White House spokeswoman declined to immediately comment. At the time of his order creating the list, Bush declared that the "grave acts of terrorism" and the "continuing and immediate threat of future attacks" constituted a national emergency.

In the case of the Muslim lawyer wrongly arrested by the FBI in Oregon, the US government agreed to pay $2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Brandon Mayfield, a converted Muslim, who was arrested and jailed for two weeks in 2004 after the FBI bungled a fingerprint match and mistakenly linked him to a terrorist attack in Spain.

Under the terms of the settlement filed on Wednesday in the US District Court in Portland, the government also issued a rare apology to Mayfield for the "suffering" caused by his wrongful arrest and imprisonment. It acknowledged that the ordeal was "deeply upsetting" to Mayfield and his family.

The Washington Post on Thursday said the payment was a clear embarrassment for the FBI, which arrested Mayfield as a material witness in May 2004. The FBI examiners had erroneously linked him to a partial fingerprint on a bag of detonators found after terrorists bombed commuter trains in Madrid in March, killing 191 people.

The FBI compounded its error by stridently resisting the conclusions of the Spanish National Police, which notified the FBI three weeks before Mayfield was arrested that the fingerprint did not belong to him, the newspaper said.

Mayfield's lawsuit alleged that his civil rights had been violated and that he was arrested because he is a Muslim convert who had represented some defendants in terrorism-related cases.

The settlement includes payments of $1.9 million to Mayfield and $25,000 each to his wife and three daughters, according to court documents. The amount is more than twice what the US government agreed to pay earlier this year to Wen Ho Lee, a US nuclear scientist who alleged that officials violated privacy laws by identifying him as a suspect in a spying investigation.

The government has also agreed to destroy all material obtained during electronic surveillance of Mayfield and clandestine searches of his home and office. The case has become a potent symbol for civil liberties advocates who argue that it shows how easily the government can abuse its powers to detain alleged terrorism suspects under relaxed standards of probable cause.

Mayfield said in a statement on Wednesday that he was threatened with the death penalty while in custody, that he and his family were targeted "because of our Muslim religion," and that he looks forward "to the day when the Patriot Act is declared unconstitutional".

"The power of the government to secretly search your home or business without probable cause, under the guise of an alleged terrorist investigation, must be stopped," Mayfield said. Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos issued a statement emphasizing that the FBI was not aware of Mayfield's Muslim faith when he was first identified as a suspect and that investigators "did not misuse any provisions of the USA Patriot Act". Scolinos also said the FBI has implemented reforms to avoid a similar mistake in the future.

The FBI, which did not comment on the settlement, has repeatedly said that there were unusual similarities between Mayfield's fingerprints and the one found on the bag of detonators, which was eventually identified as belonging to an Algerian national named Ouhnane Daoud. FBI officials also have denied that Mayfield's status as a Muslim convert influenced investigators' treatment of him.

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