18 January 2007

'Legal' before, but now 'legaler.' Or something.

For the last year or so, the Bush administration has argued that warrantless wiretapping on Americans during overseas phone calls (just overseas? Mmm-hmmm) was legal, in spite of the fact that doing so without a warrant violated the FISA Act, which is a felony offence. The Act, enacted in the late 70s after Watergate as a check to keep government from spying on its own citizens without a very, very good reason, required that any wiretapping required a warrant.

Recognizing the covert nature of wiretapping, a special, secret court was set up. Called the FISA Court, its only purpose is to examine the reasonableness and evidence available to justify covert surveillance of American citizens and issue warrants to that effect.

The FISA Act was revised in the 80s. It became clear that sometimes, it was necessary to act immediately, and that gathering evidence to present to the court – and which could stand up to inquiry -- often took a little time. The bad guy might get away while the government was stuck in court. So Congress revised the so that government agencies could go ahead with the wiretapping, just so long as a warrant was applied for within 72 hours. It worked just fine until George W. Bush became president.

Severnty-two hours was not good enough for Bush and his administration. They decided they could wiretap U.S. citizens in secret without bothering to get a warrant at all. They called it, when it finally came to light in early 2006, the “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” arguing that with the country in the midst of a war on terrorism, the President has the right to do exactly as he pleases in order to “protect American citizens.” Warrantless wiretapping, they argued, was perfectly legal under the circumstances.

They also argued that they couldn’t get the Act revised again in a timely manner or in a way that would allow them to continue what they were doing, which was no doubt true. Their reasons for disregarding a perfectly workable law were pretty damned lame.

Well, it’s been 10 weeks since the mid-term elections. Republicans no longer have control of Congress, and it seems that the Bush administration knew they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on regarding warrantless wiretapping. More to the point, they no longer had a Congress controlled by cronies who would smirk and look away as they continued to break the law.

So now, they’ve managed to get the FISA Court to give them carte blanche. There’s no need to get a warrant, because if the wiretapping is part of the war on terror, they can proceed without oversight from the secret court under a “blanket” warrant. They weren’t doing anything illegal in the first place, they say, but this is ... well, legaler. Or something.

You know, I think this latest dog-and-pony show is nothing more than an attempt to throw a wrench in the works and keep the issue mired in the courts for the next two years, just as the “surge” was an attempt to buy more time for a failed, “preventive” war based on fairy dust so the president can leave office not having to concede defeat.

Wiretapping Americans, for whatever reason, is illegal if done without a warrant from the FISA Court. It’s very clear. All this revision to the law – which was carried out in secret and without Congressional oversight – does is make any further wiretapping legal.

Which makes me wonder why they didn’t do this back in 2002, when they started spying on us in the first place. Well, I know why. They knew they were breaking the law, that we’d be quite upset over it if we found out. So they kept it secret. They didn’t care if it was legal or not.

Just for kicks and giggles, please also note that yesterday Republicans in Congress killed Democratic legislation that would have restored some semblance of ethics to Congress and gone some way toward stopping corruption and cronyism. How’d they do that? They refused to sign it unless they could add legislation allowing the President a virtual line-item veto.

Naturally, the Democrats said “uh, no.”

If you’re a Republican who cares about your country – and indeed about the very tenets of your party -- you might want to make note of that when you vote again in 2008.

Glenn Greenwald, the author of “How Would a Patriot Act” and the writer of the blog, Unclaimed Territory, was until recently a litigator in New York City specializing in First Amendment challenges, civil rights cases, and corporate and securities fraud matters. Here’s what he has to say about this newest twist in the warrantless wiretapping scandal visited upon us by our government:

“...I have to say that I find the celebratory tone that I have seen here and there to be quite odd and unwarranted. There is nothing to celebrate here. We shouldn't be grateful when the administration agrees to abide by the law. That is expected and required, not something that occurs when the King deigns that it should and we then celebrate that he has agreed to comply with the laws we have enacted. Moreover, the administration has been violating the criminal law -- i.e., committing felonies -- for the past five years in how they have been eavesdropping on us.”

You can read his whole post on the latest attempt to defraud Americans and wiretap their phones here. It’s fascinating – and infuriating.

With each passing day, the reasons for impeaching Bush and his administration become clearer and more imperative. We simply cannot let them continue to destroy our rights and prosecute an illegal war, killing and maiming thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens. George W. Bush and his administration are liars, criminals and war profiteers. Their dark presence at the very top of this democratic country’s leadership besmirches America and all Americans, both at home and abroad. They must be stopped and made to answer for their crimes. We simply can’t afford to wait.


robin andrea said...

I do think that impeaching both the President and Vice-President will be the only way to get out from under this law-breaking, unethical, and monstrous administration. They are absolutely destroying the very things that made the US a unique representative democracy. What we have now is a Executive branch defying all checks and balances. They have rendered the constitution meaningless. They must go.

Blue Wren said...

You're right. Bush AND Cheney (the Architect of Bush's madness)should be to be impeached and the criminals they have working for them (Gonzales and his creative interpretation of Constitutional rights comes to mind).

Spc. Freeman said...

But who will stand and demand it? Certainly not our leaders. I'm as glad as anyone that we had a change of House. But I'm still not convinced they can do what's necessary to stop this man.

Wil Robinson said...

I think you hit it on the nose...that Bush and his administration is attempting to stall things in courts for the last two years. I have this image of everyone sitting in their offices in the White House in front of a paper shredder frantically jamming everything they can into the blades, hoping that they can clean up before December 2008.

No doubt this was an effort to thwart any real look at the legality of the spying...

So when will Bush pardon "Scooter" Libby? Before the trial starts or right before he takes the stand?