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Posted by on Dec 17, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

Bush-Approved Spying On Americans Sparks Controversy

Amid growing controversy swirling around renewal of the Patriot Act and reports that President George W. Bush personally approved secret spying on Americans, Bush has thrown down the gauntlet to Congress and critics, essentially saying that the War On Terrorism is his to conduct as he sees fit.

That’s the bottom line if you watched his radio address this morning (delivered live this time) and read various news reports. If you boil it all down, from Bush’s standpoint and the standpoint of Republicans in Congress who support his stance (and not all do), he knows what’s best due to the info he sees coming in and previous votes in Congress can be interpreted as giving him all the authority he needs. From Bush’s bipartisan critics’ standpoint, Congressional oversight and strict legality is the way the U.S. system of government is supposed to operate — and the President most certainly does not have a blank check. MSNBC reports this:President Bush said Saturday that senators who are blocking renewal of the terrorism-fighting Patriot Act are acting irresponsibly and standing in the way of protecting the country from attack.

“In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment,” the president said in a live broadcast from the White House of his weekly radio address.

Once again? A debate over issues — civil liberties, the best way to shore up the country against future attack, separation of powers — is being framed this way:

  • I’m protecting the country and have all the info at my fingertips so let me do what I want because I know best since because I see the entire comprehensive picture.
  • If you oppose what I do you may be making it easier for terrorists to attack the United States and kill thousands (or millions).
  • You voters should understand that those who oppose what I’m doing are helping out the terrorists by not letting me do what I want to do. I can’t say they’re in bed with them but they are by their opposition to our policies helping them out. I can’t really come out and say it, but it is almost the same thing.

The irony: after 9/11 most Americans, united with this administration, seemed to agree that there’d have to be some kind of a trade-off. Americans could not live their lives as usual. There would have to be greater internal controls since American society had too many open doors for those who wanted to use freedom to walk through the doors and hurt the United States.

Enter two things. Political polarization and the use of national security as a campaign issue to use against Democrats. The result: the end of political unity.

But, more importantly, enter the Patriot Act considered by some at the time a bit draconian, but by most Americans as a necessary calculated risk: things could NOT remain as they were and there had to be some big changes. Members of Congress balked on making it open-ended, setting a renewal date…to make sure it wasn’t abused. Some made it clear at the time that Congress wanted to be involved.

Next came a host of controversies which centered on the administration’s apparent belief that the war on terrorism was for the executive branch to conduct and supervise without interference. Since the GOP ran Congress, this worked for a time until these new controversies popped up and questions were raised about the competence and judgment of executive branch officials’ leadership. Now some GOPers — those not in the party’s Congressional leadership — are demanding a return to more traditional legislative branch oversight.

A report that Bush personally ordered spying several times did not help:

President Bush has personally authorized a secretive eavesdropping program in the United States more than three dozen times since October 2001, a senior intelligence official said Friday night.

The disclosure follows angry demands by lawmakers earlier in the day for congressional inquiries into whether the monitoring by the highly secretive National Security Agency violated civil liberties.

“There is no doubt that this is inappropriate,” declared Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record) of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He promised hearings early next year.

Bush on Friday refused to discuss whether he had authorized such domestic spying without obtaining warrants from a court, saying that to comment would tie his hands in fighting terrorists.

In a broad defense of the program put forward hours later, however, a senior intelligence official told The Associated Press that the eavesdropping was narrowly designed to go after possible terrorist threats in the United States.

The official said that, since October 2001, the program has been renewed more than three dozen times. Each time, the White House counsel and the attorney general certified the lawfulness of the program, the official said. Bush then signed the authorizations.

During the reviews, government officials have also provided a fresh assessment of the terrorist threat, showing that there is a catastrophic risk to the country or government, the official said.

In today’s radio address Bush echoed that line, as the AP reports:

President Bush said Saturday he personally has authorized a secret eavesdropping program in the U.S. more than 30 times since the Sept. 11 attacks and he lashed out at those involved in publicly revealing the program.

“This is a highly classified program that is crucial to our national security,” he said in a radio address delivered live from the White House’s Roosevelt Room.

“This authorization is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives. The American people expect me to do everything in my power, under our laws and Constitution, to protect them and their civil liberties and that is exactly what I will continue to do as long as I am president of the United States,” Bush said.

What came across in today’s (televised) live radio address is this: there is no compromise in the offing on this one.

Bush believes his actions are what are needed and that he has the right to do them as President in the way he perceives the office and its powers. There was not the slightest apology or hedging:

Defending the program, Bush said in his address that it is used only to intercept the international communications of people inside the United States who have been determined to have “a clear link” to al Qaeda or related terrorist organizations.

He said the program is reviewed every 45 days, using fresh threat assessments, legal reviews by the Justice Department, White House counsel and others, and information from previous activities under the program.

Without identifying specific lawmakers, Bush said congressional leaders have been briefed more than a dozen times on the program’s activities.

So the debate will come down to this: WAS Bush operating within the law and talking to key members of Congress…members who are from b-o-t-h parties? Did they tell him his actions were within the law? Did they know all that was going on? Or was there an assumption that, because he is President, he had a blank check to do whatever he felt he wanted or had to do? And what kinds of safeguards are in place to ensure that whatever is being done now avoids abuses — such as unleashing these post-9/11 powers on groups critical of policy who are not terrorists. He did give an assurance:

The president also said the intelligence officials involved in the monitoring receive extensive training to make sure civil liberties are not violated.

Appearing angry at times during his eight-minute address, Bush left no doubt that he will continue authorizing the program.

“I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al-Qaeda and related groups,” he said

So, from his point of view, if Senators — who in past years would have regularly huddled with the White House, working with it so everyone is on the same boat on major foreign policy related matters — don’t go along with what they’ve learned or have serious reservations about Bush’s response, a serious policy issue is then defined as one purely in the political realm:

President Bush said Saturday that senators who are blocking renewal of the terrorism-fighting Patriot Act are acting irresponsibly and standing in the way of protecting the country from attack.

“In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment,” the president said in a live broadcast from the White House of his weekly radio address….

…Senate Democrats, with the aid of a handful of Republicans, succeeded Friday in stalling the bill already approved by the House. The vote to advance the measure, 52-47, fell eight votes shy of the 60 votes required to end debate.

“That decision is irresponsible and it endangers the lives of our citizens. The senators who are filibustering must stop their delaying tactics and the Senate must reauthorize the Patriot Act,” Bush said.

Unspoken in Bush’s address are the specific reasons why some Senators balk at renewing The Patriot Act in its present form, his listing of what these reservations are, his argument to counter any objections, his assurances of how he can and will prevent any abuses. Spoken: they’re “delaying” — which implies pure, unadulterated political motives….not policy differences.

It’ll now come down to some basic issues:

  • How much power has the legislative branch actually — under specific, unquestionable law — given up to the executive branch?
  • Were any of the groups or individuals watched by officials people who simply strongly disagreed with policy or were they all, in fact, perceived as legitimate threats because of their links or past backgrounds…posing a potential threat that could cost lives?
  • If there were any laws violated by Bush (iffy at this point since there are vague charges) then, specifically, what were they?
  • If laws were violated, then are there legal and/or political consequences which will follow? And if laws were violated and there are no legal or political consequences then a larger philosophical issue becomes: then what value do laws on the books actually have if officials can pick and choose which laws they can obey?
  • Are Americans taking the post 9/11 world for granted? After 9/11 Americans knew they were living in a different era. But, on the homefront, it has been calm on the terrorism front. Are some who criticize the administration losing sight of the threat and what needs to be done? And are some who defend the administration losing sight of the way the United States is set up with checks and balances and a Presidential leader who must work within clearly-defined legal boundaries?

    The New York Times:

    A single, fiercely debated legal principle lies behind nearly every major initiative in the Bush administration’s war on terror, scholars say: the sweeping assertion of the powers of the presidency.

    From the government’s detention of Americans as “enemy combatants” to the just-disclosed eavesdropping in the United States without court warrants, the administration has relied on an unusually expansive interpretation of the president’s authority. That stance has given the administration leeway for decisive action, but it has come under severe criticism from some scholars and the courts.

    With the strong support of Vice President Dick Cheney, legal theorists in the White House and Justice Department have argued that previous presidents unjustifiably gave up some of the legitimate power of their office. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made it especially critical that the full power of the executive be restored and exercised, they said.

    The administration’s legal experts, including David S. Addington, the vice president’s former counsel and now his chief of staff, and John C. Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department from 2001 to 2003, have pointed to several sources of presidential authority.

    The irony: the GOP has become the party clearly advocating Big Government (and, its harshest critics say, Big Brother).

    The non-irony: the push from this comes from where? Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.