San Francisco attorney Jon Eisenberg
thinks he's learned a thing or two about Barack Obama
over the past 15 months. Eisenberg, who won a landmark decision
against the government in Northern California's U.S. District Court Wednesday on a wiretapping case, says that when it comes to violating civil liberties in the name of national security, the present occupant of the White House is just as bad as -- or "even worse" than -- his predecessor.
"The Obama Administration stepped right into the shoes of the Bush Administration, on national security generally and on this case in particular," Eisenberg said, referring to the lawsuit brought by his clients, an Oregon branch of an Islamic charity and two American lawyers. The plaintiffs argued successfully before federal Judge Vaughn Walker that their conversations were illegally wiretapped under the Bush Administration's secret surveillance program.
Just as significant as the ruling, however, may be what the case demonstrates about the Obama Justice Department's approach to surveillance of suspected terrorists. Eisenberg told SF Weekly
that government lawyers working for Obama had been "more strident" than those working for Bush, refusing to let him see important federal documents related to the case even after he was approved for a top-secret security clearance.
"Even though I have the security clearance, I don't have the 'need to
know,' so I can't see anything," Eisenberg said. "This
is Obama. Obama! Mr. Transparency! Mr. Change! It's exactly what Bush
would have done."
The federal government has not announced whether it intends to appeal the decision in favor of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor. It had argued that the "state secrets" privilege was more important than potential violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires that a judge issue warrants for wiretaps.
Photo | aussiegall