For the past several weeks now, we have had to deal, as a country, with the realization that the Pentagon, the White House, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, and who knows how many other federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been secretly tapping into untold thousands of telephone conversations by U.S. citizens since 9/11, all without a warrant. President Bush has admitted these acts on national television and radio and has told us all repeatedly that he has both the legal and the “moral” authority to do so. The congressional vote in 2001 for the president to use “whatever means necessary” to protect America, as well as his role as commander in chief, gives him that authority, Bush claims.
This week, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is testifying before Congress on the legal justifications the administration has for the warrantless wiretaps. Gonzales, a staunch Republican ally of President Bush and the subject of raucous confirmation hearings in late 2004, will try to explain why his DoJ feels that the federal government owes no explanation to anyone when conducting warrantless wiretaps on U.S. citizens, as long as they, the feds, believe the citizens being illegally bugged are in some way connected to terrorism. We need to just trust them.
What the Bush administration has been committing since 9/11 is just a good old-fashioned felony, pure and simple. You can dress it up all you want, divert the issue, credit the Almighty for the authority, call critics traitors, and launch retaliatory investigations. But at the end of the day, you will still have a felony being committed actually, in this case, multiple felonies.
There is no wiggle room in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” In addition, every state has its own laws prohibiting warrantless wiretaps. Some are actually more prohibitive than federal law. When I was in training to be a police officer, as well as during my Army Counterintelligence Special Agent course, it was drilled into our heads that we were not, under any circumstances, to secretly tape-record any conversation without a warrant. We were also told to ask the other party we were speaking with on the telephone if it was all right if we did tape the conversation. If they said no, you did not record the conversation. That sounds pretty clear to me. It was also pretty clear to every police officer and counterintelligence agent I have ever met. There is no “gray area” within that policy. It is solidly based in federal and state law as well several precedent-setting cases decided in many local, state, and federal courts over the past two centuries. No ambiguity, no confusion, no special “wartime” clause; nothing, nada, null, zilch, zip. Cut and dry.
What makes this particularly infuriating to me and most law enforcement and intelligence professionals is that there is no reason for it. The administration has staked its claim on the necessity to move at lightning speed in order to tap the phones of suspected al-Qaeda and other terrorists before they catch on and change phones, or some such logic. Again, this is unnecessary and misleading. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows for application for a warrant up to 72 hours after the wiretap has been established. Now I’m not very good at math, but it seems to me that FISA gives someone up to three days to notify the special intelligence court after they have listened in on the suspect’s phone conversations. Does that sound like enough time to let the court know you that you have just eavesdropped on an American citizen’s private conversation without due process? It sure does to me. You also need to know that since the establishment of the FISA court in 1978, over 10,000 warrants have been applied for and only one has ever been denied. Pretty much a slam dunk, wouldn’t you say? Regardless of whether or not you buy into their ludicrous ticking-time-bomb scenario, why in God’s name can’t the Bush administration do their warrantless wiretaps, then notify the court as the law stipulates?
For the life of me, I have not heard one administration official answer that one simple question in all the weeks this controversy has been on the front burner, and I have tried to hear it, believe me! Why is the after-the-fact warrant or court notification so much of a burden on these people? Surely they have enough law clerks at DoJ to can follow up on these cases. I mean, with a recently announced $2.7 trillion budget, there must be some small change left over for such low-level paper-pushers, no?
Folks, cliché or not, what we are witnessing here with this blatant shredding of one the most important of our constitutional guarantees is the beginning of the end of the republic. Make no mistake about it. When a sitting administration, through its highest officials, willfully, knowingly, and arrogantly violates the laws of the land as well as the sacred trust it has with the American public, then the end of the republic as we know it is right around the corner.
If nothing else, we have been a nation of laws. That has been one of the primary differences that set us apart from the other countries of the world. In order to remain so, however, the nation’s government and leaders must also obey those laws. To do otherwise is tyranny.
What we are witnessing today in the United States at the hands of the Bush administration is nothing less than tyranny. Therefore, we must, as a nation of laws and as a free republic, stop this tyrannical behavior from bringing our form of government down. Sadly, we must begin impeachment proceedings immediately. Nothing else, it seems, will prevent a cataclysmic ending.
God bless America.