Friday, May 12, 2006

Law, NSA, and Bush

When General Michael Hayden spoke at the National Press club January 23, 2006, on the original NSA warrantless wire-tapping program, he assured the audience that it was all legal. “You shouldn’t worry,” he concluded.

Well, with the latest revelation about the telecommunications giants (except Qwest) turning over the phone number records of tens of millions of accounts, I think it’s time for the public to do more than simply worry. It’s time to demand a full accounting in straightforward language ( thus not the technical aspects) exactly what President Bush has unilaterally authorized the various intelligence agencies to do as part of his self-proclaimed “global war on terror” (GWOT).

An interesting sidebar to the NSA spying revelations is sharp criticism of the program from a former NSA chief, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman. The admiral called on Bush to either go to Congress and get the wiretap law rewritten to reflect “the modern world” or scuttle the entire program. (Inman, appearing at a public forum sponsored by the New York City Public Library, also called for breaking the CIA into two parts.)
The following – at a minimum – are integral to such an accounting:

- changes in standing guidelines for administrative rulings (e.g., anti-pollution measures);
- presidential signing statements
- intelligence findings
- presidential decision directives, especially those that may have ignored or contravened federal laws.

Speaking of law, some Members of Congress are quite willing to amend the law and the Constitution to “legalize” the president’s edicts. This is exactly the reverse of the reaction I would expect under a system in which the rule of law dominates. Legalizing presidential actions ex post facto is a back-door subversion of the rule of law by the rule of man – what the Founding Fathers spent lives and treasure to escape by throwing out King George.

And they wonder why so many in this country don’t trust government?


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