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Lawsuits Target Spying Program

January 18, 2006|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Two lawsuits filed Tuesday in federal courts seek to end President Bush's electronic eavesdropping program, saying it is illegal and exceeds his constitutional powers.

The lawsuits -- one filed in New York by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the other in Detroit by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups -- say the program bypasses safeguards in a 1978 law requiring court approval of electronic monitoring.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is suing Bush, the head of the National Security Agency and the heads of the other major security agencies.

The organization, which represents hundreds of men held as "enemy combatants" at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, must audit old communications to determine whether "anything was disclosed that might undermine our representation of our clients," said Bill Goodman, the center's director.

The Detroit lawsuit, which names the National Security Agency and its director, said the program had impaired plaintiffs' ability to gather information from sources abroad as they tried to locate witnesses, represent clients, do research or engage in advocacy.

It was filed by the ACLU, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Greenpeace and individuals on behalf of journalists, scholars, lawyers and national nonprofit organizations that communicate with people in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere.

A spokesman for the Justice Department disputed the lawsuits' assertions.

"We believe these cases are without merit and plan to vigorously defend against the charges," said Brian Roehrkasse, the spokesman.

A message left with the National Security Agency was not immediately returned.

Bush maintains the eavesdropping program is legal under a congressional resolution passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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