Wednesday, December 21, 2005

How Is Spy Program Story 'Playing in Peoria'? Here's the Answer

By E&P Staff

Published: December 20, 2005 1:45 PM ET

NEW YORK In recent days, E&P has monitored the overwhelmingly critical response, at major metro editorial pages, to current revelations about the Bush administration's domestic spying program. Even conservatives such as George Will have raised issues about it, but he's another inside-the-Beltway guy. How is the story "playing in Peoria"?

We mean, literally.

It turns out, not all that differently. Here is a lengthy excerpt from the Tuesday editorial in the Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star.

An unrepentant, even defiant President Bush has admitted to authorizing the National Security Agency to conduct secret electronic eavesdropping on more than 30 occasions involving thousands of citizens, bypassing the court established by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to deal with such circumstances. He defended those actions, proclaiming that the procedure has only been used against those with "a clear link" to al-Qaida. Bush said the Constitution and Congress, when it green-lighted his request to wage war, give him such latitude, which he will continue to exercise.

Americans who appreciate what this nation stands for should respectfully disagree with the president's generous and arguably self-serving interpretation of the Constitution, which does not give any occupant of the Oval Office absolute, unilateral power, even in wartime.

Second, to suggest that this is "a vital tool in our war against the terrorists" is stretching reality. Indeed, there is nothing the president has done that he couldn't have within the already established rules. Yes, this is a different kind of war and Uncle Sam needs the bureaucratic flexibility to react quickly and discreetly. But the Justice Department already could move immediately to initiate electronic surveillance, with 72 hours to seek a judge's retroactive OK. Even without that, it can take just a few hours to get the permission of the FISA court, which operates behind closed doors. In practice, presidential petitions for wiretaps are rarely denied.

Graham and others are right to be worried about the integrity of the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure. The president maintains there was oversight because congressional leaders were briefed. But it's not like he was seeking their permission. Moreover, if any congressman had revealed the existence of the program by objecting to it in any public way, wouldn't that have amounted to an illegal disclosure of classified information?

Meanwhile, the president says public hearings of his conduct would only give aid to the enemy. But isn't that an argument for conducting all government business in secret? That's unacceptable. Americans forget that FISA was established because of civil liberties abuses during the Nixon administration.

Ultimately, this begs the question: Is there anything a president can't do in the name of national security during a war that could last for decades? Bush's attitude would seem to suggest that no, there is not, even though he says "it is important that there be rule of law." His actions speak louder than his words.

Look, Sept. 11, 2001, upset all of us. No one wants a repeat. But a disturbing pattern has emerged, ranging from the administration's defense of certain torture practices to secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe, from the suggestion that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to POWs the U.S. holds to the president's ability to unilaterally declare someone an "enemy combatant." It took the White House 18 months to abide by the Supreme Court's ruling that "a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

Is this a balance of powers issue? You bet it is.

Perhaps the president's heart is in the right place. He says he just wants to protect Americans. Who doesn't? It's really quite simple: The Founders were clear that threats to the republic could come from inside as well as out. No president, of any party, under any circumstance, should be permitted to act like a king. This is troubling.


It is far worse than troubling.

It is a call for an American Insurgency.

This is an excellent time for all of us to re-read the Declaration of Independence, among other's of our founding documents.

Scroll down.


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