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Only Temporary?

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Message Jayne Lyn Stahl
A federal appeals court today gave permission to the Bush administration to continue its domestic surveillance program while awaiting a definitive ruling as to whether or not its much-maligned spying program is even constitutional. As the AP reports, the decision of the three judge panel was unanimous, and without explanation. Do we need an explanation as to why a patently illegal act should be allowed to continue while an appeals court decides its fate? I think so. Do we need an explanation as to why this president, or any president gets to put the Bill of Rights on life support, and jeopardize those values for which not one, but several generations of American service men and women have given their lives?

The government's argument to the court is that "the country will be more vulnerable to a terrorist attack" without the ability to monitor overseas electronic transmissions, and phone calls to or from the United States by alleged "terrorists," or anyone this president, and the State Department, believes to be "a terrorist." Ironically, it was at the urging, and insistence of the Justice Department that the appeals court allowed the program to remain in place while its legality is debated, a debate that will, more than likely, take several months. As we've seen from the war in Iraq, lots of damage can be done in several months. Nevertheless, this administration is on a loose leash, and was just given a free pass to continue its ongoing campaign, in violation of FISA, to pry, with impunity and with no oversight, into the personal phone records, and missives, of thousands of American citizens.

About six weeks ago, as you recall, a U.S. district judge in Detroit, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, ruled the Bush domestic spying program unconstitutional in that it "violates the right to free speech and privacy and the separation of powers" (AP) granted by the Constitution,but who needs "free speech and privacy and separation of powers?" Who needs accountabilty, either? Clearly not "we the people" who are too busy standing by watching the decimation of our civil liberties, as well as an ongoing campaign against dissent, while we do absolutely nothing.

Lately, we have heard speeches by our attorney general who seeks to tweak established, and time-honored definitions of torture such that hitherto unthinkable practices are now state sanctioned. And while it may be difficult, we must process, too, the fact that the Military Commissions Act of 2006, passed by Congress a bit more than a week ago, grants immunity from war crimes charges to this president, and other members of an administration that has orchestrated, and delivered, some of the most heinous, and hateful war crimes in the history of the industrialized world.

While the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to allow this administration's warrantless spying program is "only temporary," one wonders if the aftermath of acquiescing to executive branch bullying, and the recent request from Attorney-General Gonzales for "judicial humility" will be temporary, too, or if the courts are starting to buckle under the weight of the notion of a "unitary executive branch."

Who was it said that the commander-in-chief is commander of the military only, and not of the country? Happily, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit to stop this program which puts in jeopardy the work of many scholars, lawyers, and journalists whose international phone calls are being routinely intercepted, but we can hardly breathe easier for the hard work of one organization. It's time for all of us to own this government, lock, stock, and barrel, and take personal responsibility for its high crimes and misdemeanor just as it's time for members of the Supreme Court to do as Congress has, and not allow a runaway rogue emperor to wipe out more than 200 years of American jurisprudence, as well as 500 years of international law.

 

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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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