Presidential Powers? A Discussion of the Argument for Secret Wiretaps

When the New York Times ran a story it had been sitting on about the President authorizing illegal wiretaps, I don’t know what was more surprising. That he did it in the first place, or that he so readily admitted to it. Actually, I was not that surprised that this President chose to flaunt the law and act as “he” saw fit. I am surprised that he admitted to it, and that he says he has no plans to discontinue it. To so openly go against legal requirements should be a red flag to all Americans. It begs the question, what else is he and the Vice President doing?

The results of an AP/IPSOS poll talked about on Jan 8th showed that a majority of Americans think the President should have obtained warrants for the wiretaps. What is alarming is that more than 40% didn’t think so. It was Benjamin Franklin who said “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Oh, so true. We are supposed to trust the President to decide when liberty applies, and when it doesn’t? The same President who appointed “Brownie” to run FEMA? The same President who thinks that huge tax cuts for the rich will help the budget, or the average American? The same President who thinks he is an instrument of God’s policies?

The argument the President makes are that the wiretaps are essential to the security of Americans, and it would not be timely to have to seek warrants if the situation called for speed. And Attorney General Gonzales has rushed to claim legal ground in support of his boss and his position. What is the interesting lie in all of this, is that there was already a mechanism for secret wiretaps, and that it allows for speed. The FISA court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) allows for secret proceedings that can authorize wiretaps as well as other types of secret surveillance. And interestingly enough, it can be retroactive. In other words, there is no justification for the “need for speed” argument. The President could authorize the wiretap immediately, and then get the warrant from the court after the fact. Senator Jack Reed, (D-Rhode Island) reflected this sentiment. “I’m just stunned by the President’s rationales with respect to the illegal wiretapping. There are two points that have to be emphasized with respect to the FISA procedure: They’re secret and they’re retroactive.” Senator Reed continued “There is no situation where time is of such an essence they can’t use the FISA proceedings. And so the President’s justification, I think, is without merit.” So why would the President choose to circumvent a procedure when it was absolutely not necessary? I can only think of two reasons. He either sought to tap conversations he knew the court would not approve, or he just chose to ignore the court, thinking himself above the law. Neither situation would surprise me from this President. But neither should be tolerated by Congress or the American people.

Mr. Bush has attempted to justify his course of action in numerous remarks, including “To save American lives, we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks.” Of course. What Mr. Bush is not saying is that he had the mechanism already, and it was and is sufficient. So what is the real reason, Mr. President? He also says “It has been effective in disrupting the enemy while protecting our civil liberties.” How so, Mr. President, if you violate those liberties without no real reason at all? He also says ” My personal opinion is it was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war.” No, Mr. President, what is shameful is that you choose to ignore the law over your own interpretation, and that you assume the American people to be stupid enough to not care.

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