Saturday, January 28, 2006

Arrogance of Power

I read this editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle today and found it to be so spot-on, that I had to share it with PTCruiser fans. Enjoy. (Thanks for the tip, Dad)

PRESIDENT BUSH'S public-relations offensive on behalf of his warrantless surveillance program is an insult to the intelligence of the American people.

The White House is obviously counting on Americans to absorb the sound bites -- without bothering to look at the specifics -- in trying to turn an abuse of power into a political plus for Bush.

The administration's strategy was telegraphed by its political wizard Karl Rove in a recent speech that laid out a road map for the fall congressional elections. Rove signaled that Republicans would try to portray critics of almost anything Bush does on national security -- including the warrantless wiretaps -- as soft on terrorism.

Bush amplified the theme at his news conference Thursday, as his surrogates have done all week, suggesting that Americans should defer to the White House's judgment that its eavesdropping program should not be subject to oversight by a secret federal court that was set up to deal with such delicate matters.

"It's important for people to understand that this program is so sensitive and so important that if information gets out to how we run it or how we operate it, it'll help the enemy," Bush said. "Why tell the enemy what we're doing?"

The suggestion that obtaining a warrant from the 11-judge secret court is tantamount to broadcasting our targets or methods to "the enemy" -- or somehow impairing the ability to pursue terrorists in any way -- is just absurd. The court, established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, was designed to address the need for speed and confidentiality in investigations of terrorism or possibly lawbreaking by foreign powers. It even allows for retroactive approval (within 72 hours) when authorities are in hot pursuit of a tip.

At the same time, it serves as a critical check against any attempt by this or any other administration to abuse its vast surveillance capabilities. The FISA judges have rejected just six of the more than 5,500 wiretap requests they have received from the Bush administration since 2001.

The talking point often parroted by Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush allies on Capitol Hill -- "If al Qaeda is calling you, we want to know why" -- is a classic red herring. There is no doubt that such an eavesdropping request would fall within the 99-plus percent the FISA court is approving.

The question is: Will Congress have the fortitude to rein in a presidency that is acting as if it is above the law?

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, said Bush and his lawyers have stretched the bounds of credulity in arguing that the post-Sept. 11 authorization to use force against terrorists offered implicit approval for the warrantless eavesdropping. She has proposed a nonbinding resolution (HConRes330) expressing congressional concern that the warrantless wiretapping of U.S. residents "violates existing law." It calls on Bush to rescind the order that led to the secret spying on Americans and to report to Congress on the rationale for bypassing the FISA court.

Tauscher says the warrantless wiretapping is symptomatic of an administration that thinks it "has powers superior" to what are supposed to be the co-equal legislative and judicial branches of government.

"What you have now is a tremendous distrust," Tauscher said in a telephone interview Thursday. "Something is going to blow. This is the type of absolutism that created the Boston Tea Party, where people felt they had no way to petition their government, that government would not listen."

Americans must not be cowed by the Bush administration's "with us or against us" rhetorical campaign. As Tauscher noted, if the 1978 law somehow impedes the government's ability to track terrorists -- a premise she sharply questions -- then Congress "would want to fix it." In this democracy, a president does not have the prerogative to ignore a law he finds to be unduly cumbersome, even if in pursuit of a noble purpose.

"We have the same goals in mind -- to protect the American people, to stop the bad guys before they can attack us," Tauscher said.

Those goals can and should be pursued without shredding the individual liberties that define our proud republic, or upending the balance of powers that buttress our democracy.

You can check out Representative Ellen Tauscher's website here.


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