WASHINGTON - Defense lawyers in some of the country's biggest terrorism cases say they plan to bring legal challenges to determine whether the National Security Agency used illegal wiretaps against several dozen Muslim men tied to Al Qaeda.
The lawyers said in interviews that they wanted to learn whether the men were monitored by the agency and, if so, whether the government withheld critical information or misled judges and defense lawyers about how and why the men were singled out.
The expected legal challenges, in cases from Florida, Ohio, Oregon and Virginia, add another dimension to the growing controversy over the agency's domestic surveillance program and could jeopardize some of the Bush administration's most important courtroom victories in terror cases, legal analysts say.
The question of whether the N.S.A. program was used in criminal prosecutions and whether it improperly influenced them raises "fascinating and difficult questions," said Carl W. Tobias, below left, a law professor at the University of Richmond who has studied terrorism prosecutions.
"It seems to me that it would be relevant to a person's case," Professor Tobias said. "I would expect the government to say that it is highly sensitive material, but we have legal mechanisms to balance the national security needs with the rights of defendants. I think judges are very conscientious about trying to sort out these issues and balance civil liberties and national security."
While some civil rights advocates, legal experts and members of Congress have said President Bush did not have authority to order eavesdropping by the security agency without warrants, the White House and the Justice Department continued on Tuesday to defend the legality and propriety of the program.
Full New York Times article. D.H.: You know the drill. Under well-established "exclusionary rules," courts disallow tainted evidence, such as that gained by illegal wiretaps. Without such tainted evidence, prosecutors often cannot make their cases and terrorists go free. So the bottom line is, criminal activity by our president, excused in the name of protecting us, allows terrorists to go free and makes us more vulnerable. Just like his ill-advised invasion of Iraq led to a terrorist haven there and made us more vulnerable. The best method of homeland security would be to retire this hothead to Crawford early.