“The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties.”
-- George W. Bush, Radio Address 12/17/05
The Admission: The president personally authorized by executive order domestic spying by the NSA without a warrant or judicial review.
The Claim: All targets were Al Qaeda related.
The Crime: Bypassing legal review and, thereby, circumventing congressional mandate.
The Excuse: In the wake of 9-11, intelligence agencies cannot be delayed by procedural red tape.
We have heard the opening salvos in a scandal that proceeds directly from the Oval Office and every thinking person must ask: Has there ever been a clearer example of executive arrogance, abuse and mendacity? Reminiscent of the Iran-Contra affair, the president has employed the imperial power of the White House to overrule the law of the land.
“Trust me,” the president seems to continuously implore but no president (with the possible exception of Dick Nixon) has proven himself less worthy of trust than George W. Bush.
Set aside the long and tired trail of failures and deceptions, the “trust me” president tells us he is only authorizing illegal spying on American citizens linked to Al Qaeda but, if that were true, why would he bypass the legal sanction of a court that has rightly been characterized as a rubber stamp, that in fact has turned down only a handful of surveillance requests in its 27-year history?
Why should we trust this administration when we have only recently learned that the Department of Defense has squandered its Homeland Security resources infiltrating and spying on Quaker peace activists?
The administration argues that it cannot be bothered with bureaucratic procedures when a delay could have disastrous consequences. (Why didn’t FEMA get the memo?) The assertion is patently absurd when we realize that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) specifically provided for emergency wiretapping or intercept. In such cases, rare as they must be, the agency is authorized to spy now and get approval later (Senator Carl Levin, Meet The Press, 12/18/05).
Why, then, would the president choose to circumvent the law if not to spy on dissidents, antiwar activists and political enemies? Why would the president trash the constitutional balance of powers with a wave of the executive wand if not to authorize mass surveillance of Muslims or Arab Americans with access to the internet?
If the president of the United States of America can ignore the mandates of Congress and shunt aside the legal branch of government, even when both branches are stacked in his favor, then we are no longer a nation governed by the rule of law.
“Trust me” is the last appeal of tyrants, despots and monarchs. It does not belong in the parlance of a democratically elected president.
This president has been encouraged to believe that all actions can be justified by summoning the events of September 11, 2001 -- events for which his administration’s gross incompetence bears a large responsibility. He has so justified a war of naked aggression, the detention of citizens and non-citizens alike without legal recourse, revealing the identity of a CIA agent, torture and deportation of torture, search without warrants, surveillance without reasonable cause and now this.
By freely admitting his central role in authorizing illegal domestic spying by the National Security Agency, the president has placed this scandal at the top of the list of grounds for impeachment.
Has it come to this: That the president is so arrogant, so emboldened by so little success, so enamored of his own persona, that he can go before the national spotlight to announce his open defiance of the law on the grounds that the law is not the law when it stands in his way?
If nothing else, it suggests that his advisors have already sold him down the river and the president, himself, has completely lost his bearings.
If that is the case, we would be wise as a nation to relieve him of his duties before the next executive order.
Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident Voice and others. Visit his website: Random Jack.
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