Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, December 19th, 2005.

War Powers

Bush Administration, Civil Rights, War on Terror

Jonathan Alter proves that there’s still a free press.

President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate—he made it seem as if those who didn’t agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda—but it will not work. We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. …

… I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting,
but one can only imagine the president’s desperation.

Thirdparty at Kos has some questions about this meeting, here. Alter continues:

The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference.

I heard several cable television commenters make this same point throughout the day … we have not been told how the NSA snooping is taking place, only that it is. And certainly terrorists communicating with people inside the U.S. must have realized the feds would likely monitor their emails and phone calls. So how in the world has national security been compromised?

No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.


The flip side of what Alter says can be found at Protein Wisdom, where Jeff Goldstein quotes Dr. Walid Phares:

The question is clear: Are we or are we not at war with the terrorists?

It’s not a declared war, nor a war of limited duration, which makes extraconstitutional “war powers” of the president problematic. Never before has Article II Section II been interpreted to mean that the President can grab more power for himself whenever he wants for as long as he wants because he thinks it’s necessary for national security. During times of invasion or other emergencies the president temporarily may act without consent of Congress. And, yes, Lincoln and FDR both took on expanded “war powers” during the Civil War and World War II. But the “war on terror” could last generations, and it’s so hazily defined that we cannot agree among ourselves who we are fighting or what “victory” will look like. For these reasons Bush must be held in tighter check than Lincoln or FDR, neither of whom overreached nearly as much as Bush has.

While jihadist cells are constantly spying to find chinks in America’s infrastructure, President Bush’s critics are concerned about how America is watching the terrorists. So far, I haven’t heard a critic asking who are we watching?

Actually, a lot of us have asked who the NSA is watching. And a lot of us suspect it isn’t just alleged terrorists.

And here comes the Big Daddy of straw men:

Or anyone requesting an update as to how many terrorists are within the U.S. So, in sum, they want the government to “catch” the terrorists but not to “watch” them. I must admit that if the 9/11 Commission was right on target regarding some fellow Americans; it is about “lack of imagination.” For till further notice, I am not able to figure out how the U.S. can catch the jihadist terrorists if it doesn’t monitor them.

See, nobody is saying we shouldn’t conduct surveillance. We are saying the surveillance must be conducted within constitutional parameters, and so far the President and his crew have not shown one good reason why they had to go outside FISA to snoop on Americans.

And how can the defense and security institutions monitor an enemy in a state of war, if it provides them with the knowledge and the technology it is using.

But that hasn’t happened.
I haven’t seen a single news story that provides information about what technology is being used or how the surveillance is being conducted.

I think this story is going to be with us for a while. Fasten your seatbelts.

Share Button

Strict Construction?

Bush Administration, Civil Rights, War on Terror

Fred Barbash and Peter Baker of WaPo posted this story a short time ago:

President Bush today offered his most elaborate defense yet of his administration’s domestic eavesdropping program, saying he was legally and constitutionally authorized to implement it and obligated to do so in order to protect the country from a new kind of enemy.

In a wide-ranging news conference this morning, Bush said his authority to have the National Security Agency eavesdrop without judicial involvement derived from his inherent constitutional powers as commander in chief as well as from the authorization for the use of military force approved by Congress in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Congress gave me authority,” he said.

The “inherent powers” argument is nonsense, but I think it’s fascinating the “strict constructionists” could have found powers in the Constitution no one ever noticed before. The same people who can’t see, for example, a right to privacy in the 4th Amendment certainly have developed an expansive view of Article II Section II. And they say the Constitution is not a living document. Haw.

It is true that some presidents, notably Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, have claimed extraconstitutional “war powers.” But they did so publicly, not secretly, and they did not claim a right to flat-out ignore the Bill of Rights. I believe the closest example is Lincoln’s famous usurpation of the power of Congress to suspend habeas corpus. He argued that there was an emergency (a massive insurgency and widespread civic violence) and Congress was not in session at the time. He obtained consent of Congress after the fact. See further discussion at Findlaw. But what Lincoln did, agree or not, was very much in public view.

For more on “inherent powers,” see also Armando at Kos, here and here.

As far as the “Congress gave me authority,” argument goes, I can’t see how Congress can give authority to ignore the 4th Amendment, because that’s a power Congress doesn’t have, either. And members of Congress say they did no such thing. “The president has, I think, made up a law that we never passed,” Sen. Russell Feingold said. More here.

Barbash and Baker continue,

He expressed anger at the fact that someone revealed the secret program, saying he assumed the Department of Justice would launch an investigation to determine the source of the leak. “My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this program in a time of war. . . . The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy,” he said.

And he was visibly angered when a reporter asked him what limits there were on “unchecked” presidential authority during wartime. “I disagree with your assertion of unchecked power,” Bush said. “There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law for starters. There is oversight. We’re talking to Congress all the time. . . . To say ‘unchecked power’ is to ascribe dictatorial power to the president, to which I object.”

See, there’s what President Bush says, and then there’s what President Bush does. And I think this revelation of the President’s creative “construction” of his constitutional powers should tell the Senate to be very careful about Sam Alito and other Bush judicial appointees.

“President Bush’s acknowledgment that he unilaterally approved domestic spying is the latest piece of evidence supporting complaints that his White House operates essentially unchecked by the legislative and judicial branches,” says Dan Froomkin.

Update: More from Kos and from Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber.

Update update: Digby.

Share Button

And the Battle Resumed at Dawn

Bush Administration, criminal justice, War on Terror

Georgia10 writes at Kos that on The Today Show this morning, Attorney General Alberto “torture is what I say it is” Gonzales told Katie Couric that the president was granted the power to authorize surveillance by the authorization for war.

Reuters reports,

President George W. Bush’s decision to eavesdrop on people within the United States was backed by the U.S. Congress’ authorization of military force after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said on Monday.

“There were many people, many lawyers, within the administration who advised the president that he had inherent authority as commander in chief under the Constitution to engage in this kind of signals intelligence of our enemy,” Gonzales said in an interview with CNN.

“We also believe that the authorization to use force which was passed by the Congress in the days following the attacks of September 11th constituted additional authorization for the president to engage in this kind of” electronic surveillance, he said.

Georgia10 shreds this claim nicely, so I don’t have to.

See also: Scott at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Michael Bérubé.

See Ezra K. at TAPPED and Atrios. Short version: What is the White House hiding?

Update update: John Aravosis speculates that the NSA was spying on journalists.

Share Button

Who Knew?

Bush Administration, Civil Rights, Condi Rice, War on Terror

It’s hard to tell at the moment, but the righties may be retreating from the “what Bush did was within the FISA law” position. There’s one bitter ender here who is ignoring the point that the surveillance allegedly did involve private communications of American citizens. The “we were wrong” thing does come hard to some folks. But although they haven’t raised a white flag, this morning the righties seem to have redeployed to a new battlefield.

Which is: How many senators knew about the surveillance? And if they knew, why didn’t they speak up sooner?

Yesterday the Associated Press reported that Sen. Harry Reid was briefed on the extralegal surveillance “a couple of months ago,” and “whoever disclosed the existence of the surveillance program should be prosecuted.” This rightie blogger jumped in with “Which means that: (1) Reid ADMITS was informed as soon as he took over Dem Senate leadership from Daschle, (as we should expect); and (2) he accepts that the disclosure of this was a crime.”

Reid took over Dem Senate leadership from Daschle nearly a year ago, not a couple of months ago. Maybe the White House briefers were behind schedule. Should the “leaker” be prosecuted? As I understand the law, the liability falls only on people within the government who disclose classified information. I suspect that whoever let the New York Times know what was going on — “Nearly a dozen current and former officials,” according to Risen and Lichtblau — might be in violation of law regarding classified material, and Senator Reid would have been in violation of law had he disclosed it. The New York Times, however, would not be in violation for printing the story. And once the story was public Senator Reid was free to talk about it.

Please note that I don’t claim to be a lawyer. I could be mistaken.

Shakespeare’s Sister reports
that some “media analyst” on Fox News said that senators who are now critical of the program were briefed about it before it started. But there seems to be disagreement on this point. Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer write in yesterday’s Washington Post that

A high-ranking intelligence official with firsthand knowledge said in an interview yesterday that Vice President Cheney, then-Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet and Michael V. Hayden, then a lieutenant general and director of the National Security Agency, briefed four key members of Congress about the NSA’s new domestic surveillance on Oct. 25, 2001, and Nov. 14, 2001, shortly after Bush signed a highly classified directive that eliminated some restrictions on eavesdropping against U.S. citizens and permanent residents.


Former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who chaired the Senate intelligence committee and is the only participant thus far to describe the meetings extensively and on the record, said in interviews Friday night and yesterday that he remembers “no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of U.S. citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States” — and no mention of the president’s intent to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

So we’ve wandered into “he said, she said” territory. Dicey.

Risen and Lichtblau report today that

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday defended President Bush’s decision to secretly authorize the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without seeking warrants, saying the program was carefully controlled and necessary to close gaps in the nation’s counterterrorism efforts.

In Sunday talk show appearances, Ms. Rice said the program was intended to eliminate the “seam” between American intelligence operations overseas and law enforcement agencies at home.

“One of the most compelling outcomes of the 9/11 commission was that a seam had developed,” Ms. Rice said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “Our intelligence agencies looked out; our law enforcement agencies looked in. And people could – terrorists could – exploit the seam between them.”

The article goes on to quote a number of lawyers and security experts who say they have no idea what Rice was talking about. In an emergency, warrants can be obtained in minutes from the secret FISA court, and can even be obtained after surveillance has begun. Either the Bushies are hiding something, or they just don’t like to mess around with paperwork.

Share Button