Time to Call Bush on Lawbreaking
Published on Tuesday, May 16, 2006 by the Chicago Sun-Times
Time to Call Bush on Lawbreaking
by Jesse Jackson
 

The National Security Agency has created ''the largest database ever'' with the phone records of millions of Americans provided to the NSA by AT&T, Verizon and Bell South for a price. The NSA says it used the records to trace patterns -- data mining -- in the hunt for terrorists. The agency got neither warrants nor permission from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. As Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter admitted, the FISA law ''has been violated.'' But that's not all that is violated.

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects the privacy and liberty of Americans. It says the government can't search or seize you without a warrant issued on probable cause to believe you are involved in a crime. This right is the line between a democracy and a police state, where the state can search or seize at will. That is the line that the NSA program erased.

President Bush authorized the program and defends it. ''We are not trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans,'' he said last week. How do we know? The court set up to provide warrants has been ignored. The law set up to regulate the system has been trampled. How do we know the president is telling the truth? Trust us, he says.

Trust the president who led us into Iraq on the basis of disinformation and misinformation? Trust the president who just weeks ago told us the NSA program involved only international calls with al-Qaida? The same president who said he'd fire anyone in the White House who helped leak the identity of Valerie Plame, the undercover CIA employee whose husband helped expose Bush's lies about Iraq's nuclear capacity? Now, with Karl Rove in the center of the effort to discredit Wilson and out Plame, the president says he has no comment on a continuing criminal investigation.

This isn't a routine Washington dustup. This concerns the trampling of the Fourth Amendment by the government and the sale of our privacy by the phone companies. And it isn't an isolated case. Bush, along with Vice President Dick Cheney, who is the major force behind this thing, believes the president acts above the law in the war on terror. He claims the right to make war without a congressional declaration; to surveil Americans without warrant; to arrest us without probable cause; to hold us without a hearing; to deny us the right to counsel or even to hear the charges against us if the government decides, on the basis of evidence they need not produce, to tag us as accomplices in the war on terror.

Now most Americans would gladly sacrifice some of our liberties if it would increase our security against another Sept. 11. Bush counts on that feeling when he acts above the law. But the entire fabric of our freedom is woven into a system of checks and balances.

Here, all the checks and balances have been tossed aside. Qwest, the only honorable phone company, refused to cooperate with the NSA in this program without a warrant or permission from the FISA Court. NSA refused to produce either; the FISA court was ignored. The NSA and the administration have simply refused to supply information to Congress, and the lame Republican Congress has refused to hold them accountable. When the Justice Department's independent Office of Professional Responsibility opened an investigation on the lawyers who signed off the program, the White House refused to provide the secrecy clearances needed to have the investigation go forward. ''Trust us,'' the president says, and then he ensures that we have no choice but to trust him, since every legal check and balance is locked out.

It is time for accountability. Two public-interest lawyers have sued Verizon for $5 billion for violating the law, which should force the administration to defend the program before an independent court. Don't hold your breath for this Congress to hold hearings. But Democrats should stand up and promise an in-depth series of investigations of this administration and its lawlessness -- from Halliburton's making off with billions in sole-source contracts to the cesspool of hidden prisons to the trampling of liberties at home.

We wage the war on al-Qaida terrorists in defense of our freedoms. We'd better make certain this administration isn't shredding those freedoms along the way.

© 2006 Digital Chicago, Inc.

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