In the mid 1970s, Congress learned that both Democratic and Republican Presidents had been using national security concerns as an excuse to tap the phones of celebrities, war protesters and political activists. In response to these abuses of power, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which made it illegal to conduct electronic surveillance on Americans without a warrant or statutory authorization. President Bush explained: any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When were talking about chasing down terrorists, were talking about getting a court order before we do so. -- April 2004
You cant say it much clearer than that. So, it came as quite a shock to Bush-believers when the New York Times (12/16/05) revealed that, for the past four years, President Bush has been secretly authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on American citizens without a warrant.
At first, the Bush Administration refused to even confirm that Americans were being spied on, but it wasnt long before they were making a laundry list of excuses for breaking the FISA law. Their reasons run from the inane to the insane.
Bush claims they dont have time to get warrants because they need to move faster and quicker to catch the evildoers. That would make sense if FISA hadnt set up a special court for the sole purpose of issuing the required warrants. Warrants can be obtained within hoursor even minutes, if necessary. If that still isnt fast enough, the law allows the government to start the surveillance immediately, and then request the warrant later. You cant get much faster than that.
Bushs attorneys claim the Constitution gives the President inherent authority as Commander in Chief to authorize unwarranted spying on Americans to protect our national security. Dont bother looking. You wont find that written in the Constitution.
A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the nations citizens, --Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day OConnors opinion in a case in which Bush tried to claim the same inherent authority to hold U.S. citizens without charge or trial.Big Brother in the form of an increasingly powerful government and in an increasingly powerful private sector will pile the records high with reasons why privacy should give way to national security, to law and order, to efficiency of operation, to scientific advancement and the like. --Justice William O. DouglasEmergency does not create power. Emergency does not increase granted power or remove or diminish the restrictions imposed upon power granted or reserved. The Constitution was adopted in a period of grave emergency. Its grants of power to the federal government and its limitations of the power of the States were determined in the light of emergency, and they are not altered by emergency. --Justice Charles Evans Hughes
Bush also claims that when Congress authorized him to use all necessary and appropriate force against those responsible for the attacks of 9/11, they were really saying that he could ignore the law and spy on Americans without a warrant. Statements made at the time of the authorization dispute that claim:In extending this broad authority to cover those planning, authorizing, committing, or aiding the attacks it should go without saying, however, that the resolution is directed only at using force abroad to combat acts of international terrorism. --Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), Congressional Record, 9/14/01The body of this resolution is appropriately limited to those entities involved in the attacks that occurred on September 11th It reiterates the existing constitutional powers of the President to take action to defend the United States, but provides no new or additional grant of powers to the President. --Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), Congressional Record, 9/14/01
Tom Daschle, Senate Majority Leader at that time, has come forward to say:I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance. -- The Washington Post, 12/23/05
Mr. Daschle went on to explain, Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change . This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas - where we all understood he wanted authority to act - but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens.
The Senate refused the request.
This makes it clear that Bushs secret spying on Americans is not the result of some innocent misunderstanding or misinterpretation. The Bush Administration specifically asked for authority to use its expanded powers within the United States and Congress said No. The fact that Bush went ahead and authorized unwarranted spying on Americans should surprise no one. He has already managed to get way with secret arrests, secret detentions, secret trials using secret evidence, secret prisons, and secret torturewhy not secret spying on Americans?
There have been some encouraging signs. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) says he is skeptical of Bushs claim of authority, and he plans to hold hearings. Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) have requested a joint inquiry by the judiciary and intelligence committees.
I took an oath of office to the Constitution. I didnt take an oath of office to my party or to my president. --Senator Chuck Hagel
If enough members of Congress remember that oath; there will be hearings, and Bush will finally be held accountable for his actions. If they fail to do that, Congress might as well crown him King and go home.