POSTED: 21 December 2005 - 11:00am

Bush's High Crimes

logo of the National Security Agency, a department several times larger than the CIA

by the editors of The Nation from the January 9, 2006 issue

Choosing his words carefully, George W. Bush all but accused critics of his extralegal warrantless wiretaps of giving aid and comfort to Al Qaeda: "It was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy." If so, the ranks of the treasonous now include leaders of the President's own party, and the New York Times's revelations of illegal wiretaps foretell an earthquake. Senator Lindsey Graham, last seen carrying gallons of water for the White House on the status of Guantánamo prisoners, will have nothing of Bush's end run around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: "Even in a time of war, you have to follow the process," he said flatly. An infuriated Arlen Specter, Senate Judiciary chairman, whose good will the White House depends on in the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation of Samuel Alito, declared the President's domestic spying "inexcusable...clearly and categorically wrong" and plans hearings.

For the generations who came of age after the mid-1970s, it is worth recalling why warrantless domestic surveillance so shocks the political system. It needs to be repeated that the same arguments cited by Bush--inherent presidential power and national security--sustained the wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr., unleashed illegal CIA domestic spying and generated FBI files on thousands of American dissidents. It needs to be repeated that in 1974, the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon included abuse of presidential power based on warrantless wiretaps and illegal surveillance. It needs to be repeated that a few months later, presidential aides named Cheney and Rumsfeld labored mightily to secure President Ford's veto of the Freedom of Information Act, in an unsuccessful attempt to turn back post-Watergate restrictions on homegrown spying and government secrecy.

Most of all it needs to be repeated that no constitutional clause gives the President "because I said so" authority. The fact that former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo tried to concoct a laughable fig leaf out of Congress's 9/11 use-of-force resolution in no way diminishes the President's culpability. Nor does the evident collusion of a handful of Senate leaders, including minority leader Harry Reid, who was evidently informed at least partly about the spying program.
A belligerent President vowed that warrantless domestic spying will continue, whatever the letter of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or the Bill of Rights. Bush also none too subtly threw down the gauntlet to Congress: "An open debate about law would say to the enemy here's what we're going to do." But open debate is the very essence of democracy; without it, there is little to prevent a slide into authoritarianism (indeed, the ACLU has released FBI documents that indicate the bureau has expanded the definition of "domestic terrorism" to include citizens engaged in nonviolent protest and civil disobedience). Congress therefore has a solemn obligation to carry out a full investigation into these grave breaches of our constitutional liberties.

Where will the revelations end? Given Bush's repeated depiction of leakers and critics as aiding the enemy, is it a paranoid fantasy to imagine a secret-wiretap list extending to reporters and government officials? And given the palpable outrage among Republicans as well as Democrats at the President's contempt for basic constitutional law, is it impossible to imagine illegal wiretaps leading to the final undoing of the Bush presidency?



POSTED: 18 December 2005 - 7:00pm

An Impeachable Offense?

"Civil Liberty" illsutration by Thomas Fuchs

Americans outraged by illegal domestic spying

by Linda Pascatore 18 December 2005

"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier... just as long as I'm the dictator." George W. Bush 18 December 2000

The New York Times recently broke a story on President Bush’s authorization of domestic spying. Shortly after 9/11, the President signed an order to permit the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor international phone and e-mail messages of thousands of people within the United States.

In the past, the NSA has only been involved in foreign spying. Twenty five years ago, after terrible domestic spying on those opposing the Vietnam war, laws were passed to guarantee an end to our government spying on its own people.

Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), there is a legal way to spy on Americans when terrorism or other wrongdoing is suspected: a court order and search warrant must be obtained first. After 9/11, a special, secret court was formed to deal with any matters affecting national security. Bush could have used this court legally for these purposes, if they were reasonable and justifiable. Why did he decide to circumvent the law?

Bush has not only admitted that he ordered the NSA to spy domestically, but he has stated that he will continue to do so. He claims that this practice is a “vital tool in our war against the terrorists”, and he has reauthorized the practice more than thirty times since its inception. The American people should not let this stand. We have to stop Bush from using terrorism as an excuse to trample on our rights.

This is not the first time this administration has acted as if it is above the law. They have also shamefully attempted to scrap the Geneva Conventions to justify torture. Americans can no longer put up with these affronts to basic human rights and civil liberties. The time has come to act.

Congress and the American people should call for an immediate inquiry into this matter. If President Bush has acted illegally, then an Impeachment Hearing is justified for this very serious offense.

United States Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) made the following statement today in response to the President's weekly radio address on December 17, 2005:

Yesterday morning, Republican and Democratic Senators blocked a flawed bill that extended parts of the Patriot Act that are set to expire without fixing the fundamental problems with the law. Nobody wants these parts of the Patriot Act to expire -- we want to fix them before making them permanent, by including important protections for the rights and freedoms of innocent American citizens.

With a few modest but critical improvements, like making sure that when the government seeks library records it has to show that those records have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy, we can give the government the powers it needs while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. The President can sign a bill into law tomorrow to reauthorize the Patriot Act if he will agree to the bill that the Senate unanimously passed in July or he could extend the law for a short period so negotiations can continue.

The President's shocking admission that he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens, without going to a court and in violation of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress, further demonstrates the urgent need for these protections. The President believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed. This is not how our democratic system of government works. The President does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. He is a president, not a king.

On behalf of all Americans who believe in our constitutional system of government, I call on this Administration to stop this program immediately and to fully cooperate with congressional inquiries and investigations. We have had enough of an Administration that puts itself above the law and the Constitution.