Bush's Most Frightening Policy To Date: Domestic Surveillance

I'm frightened now. Fear is building in my bones. An internationally illegal war, torture, affronts on civil liberties via the Patriot Act, domestic failures on every front, tax cuts for the rich, children left behind, New Orleanians left behind, unchecked environmental destruction, investigations into administration officials - all of these failures will haunt the legacy of the Bush Administration. But nothing compares to George W. Bush's latest achievement. From the BBC:
President Bush has revealed he authorised a US intelligence agency to eavesdrop within the United States without court approval.
My own realization of this disturbing development in the war on terror has been burning in my gut since the New York Times revealed the story. I feel like someone has injected a puddle of molten metal into my stomach. This weight is crushing me and the burning alerts me to the magnitude and urgency of this gross affront on civil liberties.

Battles are raging in the Senate this week over the USA Patriot Act. Democrats and a handful of Republicans (including Idaho's Larry Craig) are filibustering the bill, holding out against Bush's heavy rhetoric, which is being echoed by GOP leaders in the Senate. If the Senate fails to vote by Christmas then 16 provisions of the USA Patriot Act, many violating civil liberties, will sunset. But concerns over the Patriot Act, as with every other offense of the Bush Administration and the GOP Congress, now seem lightweight next to domestic spying.

It is still unclear to what scope this executive order is utilized. And that is what is frightening. This domestic surveillance of international phone calls is done without any judicial oversight. The specifics of the program are classified. There is no check on the president's power. Bush suggests, in offense to the basic American values of dissent, that the American people should entrust him to protect us while upholding the law and civil liberties. He claims this executive order will only be utilized against known terrorists. We have, however, no guarantee but his and that is not sufficient.

But Bush's justification for this egregious violation of law and liberty is certainly the most alarming development yet in this new storm clouding Washington. After September 11th Congress granted the President the power to use all necessary force against terrorism. Armed with this act and the second article of the constitution Bush seems prepared to go to any length in his crusade against terrorism. According to the administration, extrajudicial domestic surveillance was implied in the act passed by Congress after September 11th. On Tuesday law professor Greg Maggs told NPR's All Things Considered, clarifying the administration's position, that the 'Use of Force Act' utilized in Afghanistan and Iraq also "supersedes FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]". Louis Fisher, however, told All Things Considered that "it is not appropriate to take from a general statute like the 'Use of Force Act' some implied amendment to an existing statute" like FISA. Fisher adds that "no member of Congress in debating that [Use of Force Act] ever thought of any change in the FISA statute." FISA, for those unfamiliar with the act, created a special court to approve the very type of surveillance that the administration has now undertaken. FISA even includes lawful methods for immediate action. There is simply no reason for the administration to supersede FISA and the only legal manner in which to do so is through amendments in Congress, not a broad executive order based on leaps of law logic. The assumption that this executive order is legal is clearly a stretch.

Using the precedence of this justification Bush can now conceivably take any imaginable action against terrorism, no matter the inherent sacrifice of civil liberties. His power is virtually unlimited and unchecked. VP Dick Cheney unabashedly confirms that. Also on All Things Considered on Tuesday, Cheney was reported as stating his belief that
(quote by NPR reporter, as interpreted from Cheney), "especially in the area of national security, presidential constitutional power should not be impaired at all." If the administration gets its way, the United States presidency will go from being vaguely imperial to clearly tyrannical.

Our only hope is that Congress will stand up to the offensive new load of rhetoric currently being spewed by administration officials. Senators like Arlen Specter and Russ Feingold have already called for hearings. John McCain, still skeptical of the story, said he obviously would not like domestic surveillance outside of the FISA court. We've reached a crucial fork in the road. Ignoring the administration's new abuses will foster a precedence sure to haunt us forever, not to mention right now. Standing up to this blatant drift toward tyranny, however, might reign in this increasingly imperial presidency.

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