Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Illegal eavesdropping: Bush's lack of faith in democracy

The last word has yet to be written by the last appeals court on whether President Bush's electronic eavesdropping of Americans is constitutional.

By his own words, however, President Bush has rendered revealing insight into why he defied the law and ordered eavesdropping without a special court warrant.

Bush, it seems, has no confidence in the machinery of the U.S. democracy or faith in the heritage of lawful governance.

While her reasoning is subject to scholarly debate, Federal District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor was absolutely correct in ruling that President Bush and the National Security Agency are conducting unconstitutional wiretaps.

The Detroit jurist rejected the claim that executive powers allow the president to decide how, where and when to invade the sanctity of Americans' privacy.

Bush and Vice President Cheney have made no secret of their desire to expand presidential powers over other branches of government.

Bush's efforts to trample the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure threaten the basic fiber of American freedoms.

Existing law is unambiguous. The president and his agents must justify eavesdropping with a request to a special court, which can approve or deny it.

The White House quarrel that the process is too slow and allows terrorists to slip through the fingers of investigators or commit calamitous acts before the special court acts is a fiction.

The court is available 24 hours a day, and the law allows immediate eavesdropping with the proviso that a request for continued surveillance be filed thereafter. Moreover, Congress has indicated a willingness to amend the law to accommodate today's more exacting intelligence needs.

What's involved here is not sluggish government machinery, but the president's insistence that he has the right to ride roughshod over laws he deems to be an obstacle to his powers.

In other countries, isn't this called a dictatorship?

This president is taking the nation down a perilous road. He created moral justification for attacking another nation on grounds that turned out to be spurious. He embraces secrecy as a code of conduct. He repudiates the right of the accused to legal counsel and formal charges. He has proclaimed his privilege to ignore at least 700 laws enacted by Congress.

Judge Taylor has done a favor to democracy by restraining this abuse of power. The nation will be even safer if U.S. Supreme Court jurists hearing the Bush appeal show the same stomach to block his contempt for the democratic process.

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