Friday, April 2, 2010

Wiretaps illegal

Although President George W. Bush shrugged off widespread denunciations and alarms about his rogue anti-terrorism wiretapping policies as permitted by special wartime presidential powers, critics of those acts have now been vindicated and the Bush program branded unlawful by a federal court.

In repudiating Bush wiretapping methods without proper warrants required under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that an Islamic charity in Oregon was under illegal National Security Agency telephonic surveillance for 202 days and is entitled to damages.

This is landmark law. If not appealed by the Obama Justice Department or overturned, the ruling conceivably could lead to the collapse of other cases brought by Bush's attorneys general against terrorism suspects who were also wiretapped without proper warrants.

Americans who complain that Washington is overbearing should welcome this court decision as a blow against presidential excesses and a decisive declaration about citizens' constitutional rights.

The zealotry of President Bush during a national crisis was not the first time illegal White House surveillance spread beyond "enemy" suspects to political and media critics, usually with congressional allies of the White House turning a deaf ear to such outrages.

Judge Walker's ruling is a fresh warning to U.S. presidents that they cannot ignore laws or citizen rights embodied in the Constitution, and especially cannot invoke the absurd, impromptu doctrine that "the president can do no wrong."

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