Supreme Court allows NSA telephone surveillance to continue
November 18th, 2013
10:22 AM ET

Supreme Court allows NSA telephone surveillance to continue

By Bill Mears

The U.S. Supreme Court will allow the National Security Agency's surveillance of domestic telephone communication records to continue for now.

The justices without comment Monday rejected an appeal from a privacy rights group, which claimed a secret federal court improperly authorized the government to collect the electronic records.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed its petition directly with the high court, bypassing the usual step of going to the lower federal courts first. Such a move made it much harder for the justices to intervene at this stage, but EPIC officials argued "exceptional ramifications" demanded immediate final judicial review. There was no immediate reaction to the court's order from the public interest group, or from the Justice Department.

Published reports earlier this year indicated the NSA received secret court approval to collect vast amounts of so-called metadata from telecom giant Verizon and leading Internet companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo and Facebook. The information includes the numbers and location of nearly every phone call to and from the United States in the past five years, but not actual monitoring of the conversations themselves. To do so would require a separate, specifically targeted search warrant.
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November 12th, 2013
05:51 PM ET

North Carolina man allegedly tried to help Syrian jihadist group

By Bill Mears

A North Carolina man has become the latest American charged in federal court with attempting to assist an al Qaeda militant group involved in Syria's civil war.

Basit Javed Sheikh is accused of "providing material support" to a designated terrorist group.

A criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday says the 29-year-old resident of Cary was arrested at Raleigh International Airport earlier this month, allegedly planning to go to Lebanon.

Prosecutors claim Sheikh was prepared to join the group Jabhat al-Nusrah, or al-Nusrah Front, designated last year by the State Department as a foreign terror organization.
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Special veterans court marks 25th anniversary
November 11th, 2013
02:29 PM ET

Special veterans court marks 25th anniversary

By Bill Mears

The tiny courtroom tucked away in a downtown office building had almost no spectators on a recent Thursday.

And the cases being argued before a panel of judges were not blockbusters or precedent-setting in any way.

But to current and former military men and women seeking judicial relief, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is a legal lifeline. Perhaps it is their last chance to get the full disability compensation they believe they're owed.

The nation's newest federal court is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week, giving those who served in the military a chance to challenge individual decisions made by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The court's work is little noticed, but legal experts and veterans advocates say it provides an invaluable service.

"That we have a specialized veteran's court is a credit to our national commitment to do justice by 'him who shall have borne the battle' in President Lincoln's words,'" said Justice Antonin Scalia in April.

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Former Blackwater contractors face new charges in Iraq shooting
October 17th, 2013
05:19 PM ET

Former Blackwater contractors face new charges in Iraq shooting

By Bill Mears

Four former Blackwater private security contractors faced new federal charges on Thursday, the latest chapter in a controversial political and diplomatic case over a deadly 2007 Iraqi War incident.

The men were re-indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington on various manslaughter charges related to a shooting that left 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians dead and at least 18 others wounded at Nisur Square in Baghdad.

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Former FISA judge sees problems in secret court
July 9th, 2013
05:03 PM ET

Former FISA judge sees problems in secret court

By Bill Mears

A former federal judge who served on a secret court overseeing the government's foreign surveillance program told the president's newly reconstructed privacy board on Tuesday that the FISA judicial body has serious problems.

The five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board held its first-ever public meeting, seeking recommendations from a range of experts, including former government officials involved in the secret National Security Agency program to gather telephone and Internet traffic metadata - information about the communications, such as time, place and numbers or addresses, but not the content.

Some of the most blunt comments came from the now-retired James Robertson, who served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court from 2002 to 2005.

He said there are inherent problems in this "ex parte" court– which hears only the government's side when secretly deciding whether to approve search warrants and surveillance requests.
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Justices block lawsuit over foreign intelligence surveillance
February 26th, 2013
12:31 PM ET

Justices block lawsuit over foreign intelligence surveillance

By Bill Mears

The Supreme Court rejected an effort by a group of attorneys, journalists and others to proceed with a lawsuit over the federal government's sweeping electronic monitoring of foreigners suspected of terrorism or spying.

The 5-4 conservative majority on Tuesday concluded that the plaintiffs lacked "standing" or jurisdiction to proceed, without a specific showing they have been monitored. The National Security Agency has in turn refused to disclose monitoring specifics, which detractors call "Catch-22" logic.

Justice Samuel Alito said plaintiffs "cannot demonstrate that the future injury they purportedly fear is certainly impending."

The justices did not address the larger questions of the program's constitutionality, and this ruling will make it harder for future lawsuits to proceed.

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Judge slams military efforts to limit GITMO detainee access to lawyers
Detainee walking at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
September 6th, 2012
06:32 PM ET

Judge slams military efforts to limit GITMO detainee access to lawyers

By Bill Mears

A federal judge used tough language to block efforts by the Obama administration to limit the legal rights of terror suspects held at the GuantanamoBay military prison inCuba, ruling Thursday that proposed changes were an "illegitimate exercise of executive power."

Officials of the departments of Justice and Defense had claimed they alone should decide when the prisoners deserve regular access to their attorneys.

But in a 32-page ruling, Judge Royce Lamberth said federal courts had proper authority to decide the matter, and criticized the executive branch for recently changing the procedures, when he said the current system was working well.

"The old maxim 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' would seem to caution against altering a counsel-access regime that has proven safe, efficient, and eminently workable," said Lamberth. "Indeed," he added, "the government had no answer when the court posed this question in oral arguments" last month.

"Access to the courts means nothing without access to counsel," added the judge.

Justice Department lawyers said they have started restricting when Guantanamo prisoners could challenge their detention in the Washington-based federal court. If approved, any relaxing of the rules would be made on a case-by-case basis at the exclusive discretion of military officials, not by the courts.

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