McLEAN, Va. – A federal judge dismissed claims that prosecutors illegally built their case against a convicted Al Qaeda supporter on information obtained from the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program.
Truck driver Iyman Faris, 37, of Columbus, Ohio, is serving a 20-year prison sentence after admitting in a plea bargain that he conspired with Al Qaeda on an aborted plot to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge by cutting its suspension cables.
But Faris sought to have his sentence vacated, in part because of suspicions that the government's eavesdropping program tainted the case.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, filed earlier this week at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, is under seal, so it is unclear why she dismissed the claim. The motion filed by Faris' lawyer, David Smith, also dealt with issues unrelated to the eavesdropping program, including claims that Faris received ineffective legal counsel.
Smith declined to discuss the ruling because it remains under seal. He said he has not yet decided whether to seek an appeal.
When the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program was first disclosed in December by The New York Times, government officials cited the Faris case as one of the terrorist plots foiled by the program. Critics say President Bush didn't have authority to order the wiretaps, but he has defended the practice.
Prosecutors later said in a court filing that they learned of Faris' activities through a court-ordered wiretap and not through the NSA program.
Faris is one of several convicted terrorists who has sought to challenge the legality of the NSA's eavesdropping. So far, no challenge has been successful.
Lawyers for Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a U.S. citizen convicted of joining Al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate Bush, raised similar claims. But a federal judge rejected those claims after reading a sealed brief from the government.
Lawyers for Ali al-Timimi, a U.S. citizen serving a life sentence for his role as the spiritual leader of what prosecutors called a "Virginia jihad network," have also argued that the government illegally built its case based on information from the NSA program. Prosecutors deny the charge, and the judge has yet to make a definitive ruling.
Faris was born in Pakistan and became a U.S. citizen in 1999. He admitted in court papers that he personally met Usama bin Laden in late 2000. He also said he helped Al Qaeda purchase thousands of sleeping bags and helped the organization's members obtain plane tickets. Faris recanted his admission shortly after pleading guilty in 2003, but Brinkema ruled that the plea was still valid and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
At his sentencing, Faris said: "I don't have any connection with Al-Qaeda except my best friend works for Al Qaeda."
Prosecutors suggested in court papers that Faris developed a case of "buyer's remorse" after accepting the plea. Faris' lawyers raised questions about his mental health.