Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Right then, right now

Americans can learn from words and actions of Idaho's U.S. Sen. Frank Church 30 years ago as he uncovered chilling abuses of presidential power run amok.

Day after day, Church's Select Committee on Government Intelligence Activities exposed illegal, rampant spying—and worse—on Americans by the Nixon administration.

The committee found plots to assassinate foreign leaders, "black bag" break-ins of homes of American political dissidents, phone taps, a Nixon "enemies list"—a chilling recitation of a rogue president's contempt for constitutional liberties.

Nixon's tool for riding roughshod over laws was the National Security Agency. It was reined in with a new law requiring it to obtain warrants from the new, secret Foreign Intelligence Security court.

Today, it's déjà vu. Another president, George W. Bush, and the same NSA, have been caught in apparent violations of the very law enacted after President Nixon's misconduct was exposed.

What Church said on Oct. 29, 1975, was right then and just as right today. "We have a particular obligation to examine the NSA, in light of its tremendous potential for abuse. ... The danger lies in the ability of the NSA to turn its awesome technology against domestic communications."

Does today's Republican-controlled Senate have the courage and true patriotism to confront another president with ugly questions about rogue domestic spying as Frank Church did 30 years ago?

Let's hope so.

At stake, once again as it was in 1975, is the cherished right of Americans to be safe from wanton, illegal spying by a government that dismisses laws as bothersome obstacles and decides willy-nilly what rights Americans are entitled to.

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