Monday, December 19, 2005

Bush Faces Growing Storm Over Secret Wire Taps

Published on Monday, December 19, 2005
(Is this the final straw? It sure as hell should be.) 

US lawmakers said that President George W. Bush may have broken the law by approving the secret monitoring of phone calls and emails within the United States after the September 11 attacks.

But the administration insisted the wire taps, even without a court warrant, were legal and Vice President Dick Cheney criticised those who he said were not committed to "doing everything" to guard against new terrorist attacks on the United States.

Members of Bush's Republican party and opposition Democrats called, however, for an inquiry into the eavesdropping.

"Whether it was legal is a matter that ought to be examined," Senator Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told CNN television.

"There are limits to what the president can do under the constitution," Specter said, adding that his committee would hold hearings on the new rights controversy.

Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the eavesdropping was legal and within the president's constitutional authority.

Cheney said the monitoring might have prevented the September 11 attacks had it been available before.

"It's the kind of capability if we'd had before 9/11 might have led us to be able to prevent 9/11," he said in an interview with ABC television while on a Middle East tour.

Cheney said the measures were "consistent with the constitution" and had been reviewed by the president every 45 days since they were started.

With the administration also forced to back down over a formal ban on the torture of detainees held by the United States anywhere in the world, and struggling to get other anti-terrorism measures renewed by Congress, the vice president said he was worried about US determination to prevent new attacks.

"What I'm concerned about," he said, "is that as we get farther and farther from 9/11, we've got -- we seem to have people less and less committed to doing everything that's necessary to defend the country."

Rice also defended the president in television interviews.

"We simply can't be in a situation in which the president is not responding to this different kind of terrorism. We exist now in a world in which terrorist attacks are taken from within the United States," Rice told the Fox News channel.

Rice also joined the president in condemning the publicizing of the secret program, which was revealed by the New York Times.

"It is really a serious matter when we get the disclosure of a program like this because, after all, what we must do is protect from those who are trying to hurt us."

Democrats and civil liberties groups called the revelation of domestic spying without judicial review "frightening" and part of a pattern of trying to circumvent the law.

"There should be investigations and hearings relating to this by the committees of competent jurisdiction," Senator Harry Reid, leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, said on Fox.

Bush acknowledged the program in a speech on Saturday but defended the spying as a "vital tool" to deter possible terrorist attacks.

Democrats said existing law already allowed for eavesdropping approved by a special court set up under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Democratic Senator Russ Feingold said there was no legal authority under the FISA law for spying without a court review. "The issue here is whether the president of the United States is putting himself above the law," Feingold told CNN.

"The fact is this administration is playing fast and loose with the law in areas of national security," he added.

The administration's tactics in the "war on terror", adopted after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, are coming under increasing scrutiny.

Last week the White House agreed to a proposed law that would ban the use of torture against terrorist suspects under detention.

Congress is holding up some anti-terrorism measures in the Patriot Act that expire on December 31, while the Supreme Court is to rule on the legality of the special military courts ordered for detainees at the US "war on terror" prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Copyright © 2005 AFP


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