Judge Lets Guilty Plea Stand in Terrorism Case
Defendant Cited Warrantless Surveillance

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 11, 2006

A federal judge has refused to throw out the guilty plea of a convicted al-Qaeda supporter who argued that he was illegally spied on through President Bush's controversial warrantless eavesdropping program.

Iyman Faris, an Ohio truck driver, pleaded guilty in 2003 to plotting to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge and launch a simultaneous attack in Washington. He asked a judge to vacate the plea, arguing in part that the alleged surveillance violated his rights and that the government could not use it to build a case against him.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema rejected Faris's motion this week for reasons that are unclear because her ruling remains sealed. It is cited in the docket in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Another docket entry says Brinkema rejected efforts by Faris's attorneys to obtain documents "relating to or concerning any warrantless electronic surveillance or monitoring" of his conversations by the National Security Agency.

Faris, a Kashmiri-born naturalized U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Qaeda. Federal officials said he was an al-Qaeda scout who had planned with top al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheik Mohammed to sever the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge and to derail trains in or near Washington.

Faris's attorney, David B. Smith, declined to comment on Brinkema's ruling, as did prosecutors.

Faris is one of a number of terrorism defendants who have filed legal challenges to the NSA program, under which the agency has monitored phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents and foreign parties without obtaining warrants from a secret court that handles such matters.

A federal judge in Detroit ruled in August that the program, which is aimed at communications of potential terrorists, is unconstitutional and violates privacy and free speech rights. The government is appealing. Bush has argued that the program is legal and necessary to protect Americans from terrorists.

Faris is unique among defendants who have challenged the surveillance because Bush administration officials have said he was spied on -- and credited the program with helping to uncover his plot.

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