On December 17 the President of the United States appeared on national television and told us he had broken the law by using the NSA to conduct warrantless surveillance on Americans within America, that it was his prerogative as president to break the law as he saw fit, that he would do so again at the time of his choosing, that he as president was above the law, and that the newspaper that broke the story (after spindling it for a year at his request) was irresponsible and had endangered national security.
George W. Bush, by his own admission, has violated the Constitution he swore under oath to preserve and defend. He must be impeached, tried, convicted, and removed from office. To advocate a lesser course of action is un-American and irresponsible. To accept the dubious justifications spawned by the terrorist threat is shameful, cowardly, unpatriotic. The Bush Administration has used the excuse of terrorist threat to erode civil liberties it evidently sees as too extensive in America. For the past five years, the law has mattered little to Bush policymakers. It is time the law asserted itself.
This administration has already seriously damaged our good reputation in the international community, and now it is proving itself a grave threat to our national identity and the freedoms which are, or ought to be, the hallmarks of American society.
Bush and Cheney cannot be trusted to steer this country wisely. They have arrogantly disregarded American law and must be impeached.
Find your representatives at the site below. Write a brief letter explaining that you expect them to defend American civil liberties law by pushing for the sternest action possible against this arrogant administration.
I.-- During his December 17th press conference, President Bush defended his 2002 establishment of warrantless surveillance as follows:
"[The] people responsible for helping us protect and defend came forth with the current program, because it enables us to move faster and quicker. And that's important. We've got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent. . . . . [Obtaining warrants from the FISA court] is for long-term monitoring. What is needed in order to protect the American people is the ability to move quickly to detect."
In short, the president says he set up his program of warrantless surveillance because it is sometimes impossible to obtain a warrant in time to spy on a particular threat. The president must be able to order surveillance on his own, without a warrant, because of the need, in certain cases, for fast action.
This is a bald-faced lie. It is a lie because, as both the president and his legal advisors know, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows him to order surveillance on a target first, then obtain a warrant after the fact. In short, the law already allows the president of the United States to order surveillance at the drop of a hat without the need for any warrant beforehand.
Why, then, did the administration decide to establish a program intended to bypass this law? Since the need for prompt action against terrorists is obviously not the real reason, what is the reason?
There are two logical answers:
1) The administration sought to set up a mechanism for spying on Americans that would have no external oversight whatsoever. With Bush's program, the administration in effect would have its own in-house surveillance service, under which anyone could be watched as if they constituted a national threat. This list of anyone could easily come to include anti-war activists, journalists investigating delicate stories, overzealous whistleblowers, etc. It could include these people because, after all, there is no oversight except the president and his minions.
2) The administration set up the program because it knew ahead of time that the FISA court would not approve spying on the kind of people they wanted to spy on: in short, American citizens who didn't really pose a terrorist threat, but who perhaps posed a political threat to the administration. Whether or not such abuse has actually occurred in the use of warrantless surveillance up to this point is an important question, but not the essential one. The fact is that the president has established a program that could easily be used in such a way if the president so desired. The very act of setting it up is a grave infraction against American civil liberties.
Note that in past uses of the FISA court the records show that while thousands of requests for warrants were made, only four or five times did the court refuse to grant a warrant. The court, in other words, is not exactly stringent in its oversight role. Why then should the Bush Administration worry about the need to get a warrant? As long as the target was even feasibly a security threat, the FISA court could be expected to grant a warrant promptly. There must be something else that was worrying them.
The above two cited reasons are the only logical ones for the establishment of warrantless surveillance. The Bush Administration wanted a program that would allow it to conduct spying on Americans with no oversight whatsoever. Is it American to allow any president, under any circumstance, such a power? It is not.
II.-- Bush's Justice Department has argued that the congressional Authorization to Use Military Force of 2001 gives a legal basis for the president's program of domestic wireless surveillance. That bill authorizes the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."
Then Senate majority leader Tom Daschle has pointed out that the bill could not have been construed as an authorization to conduct wiretaps inside the United States as a means of preventing future terrorist attacks. For one thing, the bill authorized force only against those who had committed the attacks of September 11. But more crucially, the administration had sought, and been denied, an authorization to use such force inside the United States. Daschle wrote:
Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words "in the United States and" after "appropriate force" in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas--where we all understood he wanted authority to act--but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.
The bill in question authorized military force overseas against the September 11 attackers. It did not authorize domestic wiretaps without the need for a warrant. In fact, Congress had explicitly rejected allowing the president to include domestic activities in the bill's purview. The Justice Department seems to be arguing on very thin ice indeed.
Bush's 2002 order to establish his program of warrantless surveillance constitutes a serious misuse of executive authority. Given that the need for prompt action in spying on terrorists is obviously not the reason the program was set up, what other reasons other than the two cited above might there be? There could be no practical reason for such a program of domestic surveillance, and there was no legal basis for it.
As Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, has put it, the establishment of this program "ought to send a chill down the spine of every American."
The Bush Administration has broken American law, undermined the Constitution, and broken the trust between itself and the American people. The patriotic course of action is to begin impeachment proceedings as promptly as possible. Contact your representatives and let them know that you expect them to fight this corrupt administration. Here: http://www.senate.gov/
December 23, 2005
The quote from Sen. Daschle is taken from a Washington Post article of December 22.
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