Thomas Nelson, an Oregon lawyer, has lived in a state of perpetual jet lag for the last two years. Every few weeks, he boards a plane in Portland and flies to the Middle East to meet with a high-profile Saudi client who cannot enter the United States because he faces charges here of financing terrorism.
Mr. Nelson says he does not dare to phone this client or send him e-mail messages because of what many prominent criminal defense lawyers say is a well-founded fear that all of their contacts are being monitored by the United States government.
Because he is constantly shifting time zones to see his client face to face, “I just don’t sleep normally anymore,” Mr. Nelson said. “But I don’t have a choice. It’s very clear to me that anything I say to my client or to other lawyers in this case is being recorded.”
Across the country, and especially here in Oregon, it seems, lawyers who represent suspects in terrorism-related investigations complain that their ability to do their jobs is being hindered by the suspicion that the government is listening in, using the eavesdropping authority it obtained — or granted itself — after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Steven T. Wax, a Portland lawyer involved in several terrorism cases, said he has told clients to assume that everything they say to him is being secretly monitored. Mr. Wax said he “self-censors” his e-mail messages, even to other lawyers and friends. The situation, he said, has elements of “Kafka and ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ ”
The Justice Department does not deny that the government has monitored phone calls and e-mail exchanges between lawyers and their clients as part of its terrorism investigations in the United States and overseas.
But in cautiously worded court statements, the department says that if there has been surveillance of lawyers involved in terrorism cases, it has been handled in strict accordance with federal law and with the Constitution’s promise of a criminal defendant’s right to counsel.
“We do conduct ourselves ethically and adhere to our responsibilities under the rules of ethics,” a Justice Department lawyer, Anthony J. Coppolino, told a federal judge here in a court hearing this month on the issue. (MORE)