This past week saw a brief return to the underpinnings of the law in the United States of America. After five years of abuse by the Executive Branch we saw a judicial decision that stood up to the monarch that would be and a reassertion of the separation of powers and checks and balances that are the hallmark of our democracy.
A federal judge in Detroit ruled on Thursday that a National Security Agency program to wiretap the international communications of some Americans without a court warrant violated the Constitution, and ordered it shut down. While it was a clear victory for the American people, the message was lost on our president as he continues to display a lack of understanding for how the government is supposed to work. Lest we forget the specifics, this case is about the clearly illegal decision of our president to monitor communications of American citizens without a court order. Moving past the fact that Bush actually denied for years that he was even engaged in this behavior only to snub his nose at the American people when he was caught, there are other problems inherent in his logic for its usage.
In speaking this week against the decision, Bush continued to show his detachment from reality. In a question and answer session Bush stated, "We believe, strongly believe, it's constitutional," the president added. "And if al Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know why they're calling." This statement is both disingenuous and a red herring. First of all, the scope is larger than "just if al Qaeda is calling someone in the United States". It appears that it applies if there is suspicion at all from the Executive Branch about a communication. The fact is that if we were allowed to see the true scope of what has been done so far, there is serious doubt if the majority would even turn out to have anything to do with terrorism at all. The administration cries "national security" to avoid having to reveal the true nature of the illegal wiretaps conducted so far. The red herring portion of this argument is the inference that without this program we cannot wiretap someone if al Qaeda is suspected of being involved in the communication. That is patently ridiculous as the system already allows for legal wiretaps by using the FISA court system, which actually allows the government to start a wiretap and provide proof after the fact anyway. Since its inception, the FISA court has approved nearly all of the tens of thousands of requests the government has made. Make no mistake about it America, this is not about terrorism, it is about oversight. The president simply does not want any oversight for who he wishes to wiretap. This was the express reason the FISA court was set up to begin with. To ensure that the president does not have unchecked power over the citizenry of the United States. It is not about wanting to listen is to al Qaeda; it is about not wanting to explain to anyone why the person being wiretapped was targeted.
Unabashed, Tony Snow, the White House Press Secretary, also described the program as a vital and legal tool. "The whole point is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks before they can be carried out," Mr. Snow said. "The terrorist surveillance program is firmly grounded in law and regularly reviewed to make sure steps are taken to protect civil liberties." More nuance of the truth. The program is not grounded in the law, because if it were then a judge would have not just ruled that it is indeed illegal. The "regular review" is also not within the framework of the current law or constitution. Certain people may review it, but they all are inclined to agree already with the president. If it is so thoroughly vetted then the administration would not be balking at the idea of revealing the scope of the program and the particulars involved to date. Their revulsion at the notion of scrutiny indicates they know full well that they have already overreached in the implementation of these wiretaps. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire.
The GOP is already bemoaning the decision and politicizing it in relation to the recent "foiled terror plot", which was announced with equally fevered politicization last week. Never mind that they offer no proof of how this program specifically was used in the Great Britain plot, "just take our word" is the Republican Party line. Never mind that even that "plot" is unraveling daily to be much ado about nothing, designed only to scare the populace, the assurances from republicans that this illegal surveillance program was pivotal strikes most as being quite politically expedient. Also, never lose sight of the fact that even if it was pivotal, the FISA court would have allowed the surveillance anyway. Again, the issue is not that anyone thinks we should not wiretap suspected terrorists. No, the only issue is in believing that the president is not above the law and needs to have oversight into whom he decides he wants to wiretap.