Oregon Newspaper Sues For Release of Terrorist Surveillance Documents

A U.S. News and World Report article identified a lawsuit filed by the publishers of the Oregonian in Portland for the unsealing of documents in a pending case involving the National Security Agency and terrorist surveillance: “In a motion filed Friday, lawyers for the Oregonian Publishing Co. argued that it is in the public interest to know the contents of documents that could prove the existence of a potentially illegal domestic spying program.”

The Oregonian has no pony in this race. Instead, it is clearly muckraking without regard to how it might impact national security and the war on terror:

“‘This appears to be the first case in which documents have been filed with the court demonstrating the National Security Agency's practice of wiretapping private conversations,’ said Charles F. Hinkle, a lawyer for the publishing company. ‘We are not interested in the content of the attorney-client communications. We are interested in what the government did.’"

The case in question involves allegations by the federal government that an Oregon-based Islamic charity has ties to al Qaeda and is funding them. Apparently, one of the charity’s directors gave $130,000 in travelers checks to Chechen rebels in March 2000. The charity’s funds were frozen in February 2004 by the federal government , and the charity was designated as terrorists in September 2004.

Regardless, the Oregonian believes it's acting for the public good:

“There is a ‘broad and legitimate public interest’ in the contents of the documents, Hinkle wrote, asserting the right of the press and public to have access to them. Hinkle further argues that because [the charity’s lawyer] Nelson did not indicate that the documents are classified, they are not protected by laws shielding classified information from disclosure in criminal cases.”

However, neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has yet determined the legality or illegality of this terrorist surveillance program. Clearly, the Oregonian must be aware of this. Shouldn’t it wait until such a determination has been made before filing a lawsuit over documents that might end up having been legally obtained?

After all, even most Democrats in Congress – including Nancy Pelosi – thought it would be premature to censure President Bush over the existence of this program until its illegality had been definitively determined. Shouldn’t a news organization be able to come to a similar conclusion, or is this asking a media member to behave logically?

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Noel Sheppard's picture