Friday, March 24, 2006

The Long Ear of the Lawless

Cynical as I tend to be, I'm astonished that the checks on executive power seem to be failing so badly.

I've been trying to keep up with the specifics of the warrantless wire tapping authorized by the current administration. The information has been trickling out slowly, despite repeated requests from congress to the DOJ to answer specific questions about the program.

The latest set of responses (characterized in this AP newswire story) would seem to indicate a number of new troubling concerns.

Among these:

  • No court warrant is required to tap any conversation between a person in the U.S. and a person outside the U.S.

  • Tapped conversations can include those between attorney's and clients.

  • Materials from these tapped conversations can be used in U.S. criminal prosecutions.

  • The administration can solely determine when the FISA court should be notified, and when it doesn't have to be.

  • The administration can cite no prior presidential precedent for the authorization of such a wide ranging program of electronic surveillance.


And finally, the real kicker...

    - That electronic surveillance of parties solely within the U.S. (not a foreign communication), if merely suspected of being in any way associated with terrorism, is within the sole discretion of the administration (and may - read has - already been done).
The department also avoided questions on whether the administration believes it is legal to wiretap purely domestic calls without a warrant, when al-Qaida activity is suspected. The department wouldn't say specifically that it hasn't been done.
For those who care to look, a number of blogger's have already posted a number of video clips of President Bush making false statements regarding this program. These statements have gone from "we get court orders for wiretaps", to "anyone who discloses this program is aiding and abetting our enemies" (which, though not said, is also the specific language used to define treason).

I'm not a fan of impeachment. Though I wasn't a Clinton fan, I thought using the impeachment proceedings against a standing president for lying about sex with an intern was a gross misuse of the congressional check on executive power. (Although I now look back on those days fondly - if a president lying about his sex life was the peak of our problems, life was pretty good in the 90's...).

But if the power of impeachment, which is to use congressional authority to question the chief executive (not necessarily to remove him), then why isn't it being used in a case where the executive branch has stated, as clearly as they're ever going to, that they can make and execute laws without the oversight of either congress or the courts?

Has fear of our own government penetrated even into the congressional ranks? Or is the majority of the U.S. content with this slide toward facism, and their representatives are merely reflecting the will of the people?

Sometimes I feel like such an alien on this planet.

(Update: Good discussion here on current legal state of the debate, as well as how jumbled the media reporting is on the topic)

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