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Friday, December 23, 2005

They really do think they're above the law
Posted by Jill | 8:23 AM

It's clear that the Bush Administration believes that when Congress gave it authorization to use military force in response to the 9/11 attacks, they were being granted full dictatorial power over the entire government.

I have no use for Tom Daschle, but in today's WaPo he shoots holes in the Bush Administration's claim that Congress authorized its program of illegal wiretaps:

As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel's office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. 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.

On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the White House proposed that Congress authorize the use of military force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." Believing the scope of this language was too broad and ill defined, Congress chose instead, on Sept. 14, to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11. With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change. Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words "in the United States and" after "appropriate force" in the agreed-upon text. 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. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.

The Bush Administration has used this very specific and targeted resolution as justification for its illegal war in Iraq, and now for its surveillance of groups and individuals that oppose Administration policy.

That they are so breezily admitting that they violated the law indicates that they expect to be able to do so at any time, and they are just daring anyone to do something about it:

The Justice Department acknowledged yesterday, in a letter to Congress, that the president's October 2001 eavesdropping order did not comply with "the 'procedures' of" the law that has regulated domestic espionage since 1978. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, established a secret intelligence court and made it a criminal offense to conduct electronic surveillance without a warrant from that court, "except as authorized by statute."

There is one other statutory authority for wiretapping, which covers conventional criminal cases. That law describes itself, along with FISA, as "the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . may be conducted."

Yesterday's letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, asserted that Congress implicitly created an exception to FISA's warrant requirement by authorizing President Bush to use military force in response to the destruction of the World Trade Center and a wing of the Pentagon. The congressional resolution of Sept. 18, 2001, formally titled "Authorization for the Use of Military Force," made no reference to surveillance or to the president's intelligence-gathering powers, and the Bush administration made no public claim of new authority until news accounts disclosed the secret NSA operation.

But Moschella argued yesterday that espionage is "a fundamental incident to the use of military force" and that its absence from the resolution "cannot be read to exclude this long-recognized and essential authority to conduct communications intelligence targeted at the enemy." Such eavesdropping, he wrote, necessarily included conversations in which one party is in the United States.

Unbelievable. It's no surprise to me that this Administration thinks it's above the law, but the extent to which these people are thumbing their nose at the law and at the American people, all in the name of 9/11, is simply breathtaking, even to my cynical eye.

Meanwhile, we know that the kind of surveillance that has been conducted has NOT been limited to "conversations in which one party is in the United States" and the other presumably somewhere in the Middle East, but has been conducted on gay rights groups, environmental groups, animal rights groups, and college students doing papers on Communism.

This scandal, which I will now dub Stalingate, is NOT Watergate, nor is it Nixonian. At least Nixon's henchmen knew enough that what they did was wrong that they attempted to cover it up. This bunch doesn't even try to cover it up. They truly believe that they can do anything they want, eviscerating the Constitution, stealing taxpayer money to stuff their pockets with no-bid government contracts, and do it all over the corpses of the people who died on 9/11.

This is no less than a coup d'etat by a dictator and his henchmen. Who will stop them?
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