Sunday, August 26, 2007
A criminal case pending in New York State could have serious implications for the future of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. According to the New York Times, defense lawyers in the case are challenging the legality of the terrorism convictions of two Albany, N.Y., men accused, with evidence from electronic surveillance, of agreeing to launder money for a fictitious plot to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat in a sting put on by the F.B.I. What makes this case so potentially dangerous for the Bush administration is that while previous civil cases challenging the wiretapping program have been thrown out before trial on procedural grounds, this is a criminal prosecution with no such procedural pitfalls. The challenge, filed on behalf of Yassin M. Aref, a pizza shop owner and imam of an Albany mosque, and his associate looks like it will be heard by a state appeals court, which means it could be before the U.S. Supreme Court before long. Any decision by the U.S. Supreme Court will have tremendous impact on the Constitution and the future of the First Amendment, since fundamental rights such as freedom of association and freedom of speech are implicated. Even if the two men were up to no good and are not good people, the government cannot claim the power to deprive them of their rights pre-emptively. The American Civil Liberties Union has entered the case in support of the appeal.