An Oregon lawsuit with profound national security questions hinges on a single document.

A defunct Oregon charity that distributed Islamic literature to prison inmates claims it was the subject of an illegal federal eavesdropping program. And the only way it can prove its case is with a top-secret document held under lock and key.

U.S. Justice Department lawyers say the document is too sensitive; it contains information that — if revealed — would cause “exceptionally grave damage” to U.S. attempts to prevent future terrorist attacks. They say that even allowing a lawsuit to go forward would reveal state secrets.

The task of tiptoeing around the document falls to U.S. District Judge Garr M. King, a Portland-based federal judge.

During a hearing Tuesday morning in a 9th floor courtroom in the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse, King repeatedly pushed lawyers for both sides to consider ways to protect the document and national security while allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

King, who intends to rule next week, said it was “appropriate and necessary” to evaluate the specifics of the case and not be afraid to come up with creative solutions — if possible — to allow it to go forward. . .

A handful of lawsuits around the country have challenged the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program since The New York Times revealed it late last year.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Michigan ruled that the program was illegal and unconstitutional and ordered its immediate halt. President Bush criticized the ruling and promised to appeal.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.