WASHINGTON - February 6 - As the Senate Judiciary Committee met today to conduct the first official Congressional oversight hearing on the warrantless National Security Agency wiretapping program, the American Civil Liberties Union urged Senators to ask tough questions of the sole witness, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and reject the administration's claim that the operation is both legal and necessary.
"President Bush, like all presidents, is bound by the rule of law," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "The Senate Judiciary Committee must vigorously fulfill its responsibility to America by asking tough questions of the attorney general. While Mr. Gonzales gave the go-ahead on the illegal spying program when he worked for the president in the White House, he now has a different role as the country's highest law enforcement official tasked with upholding the nation's laws. If he can't exercise an independent review of the executive, he should step aside and appoint a special counsel who can do an independent review. The administration should stop trying to justify this illegal program. No one in America is above the law."
In a full-page advertisement in today's USA Today, the ACLU urged Congress to act on the warrantless NSA spying program authorized by President Bush, noting that Democrats and Republicans alike have raised serious concerns. The ACLU has called for a full, open and independent investigation into the illegal program, and has also filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of prominent journalists, nonprofits, terrorism experts and community advocates challenging the constitutionality of the warrantless surveillance operation on First and Fourth Amendment grounds.
Today's first official congressional oversight hearing follows an aggressive public relations campaign by the administration to try to justify the program without revealing any verifiable facts about its reach. The ACLU noted that none of the administration's rationalizations justified the president's assertions of limitless, unchecked authority to violate the Constitution and federal laws. Legal experts have agreed that the illegal NSA spying program violates the letter and spirit of the law, and the non-partisan Congressional Research Service concluded the president has overstepped his authority and that he failed to properly brief Congress, as required by law.
The ACLU urged lawmakers to ask tough questions of the attorney general to determine: What laws the White House is referring to when the president has said the program is "legally right"; does the attorney general believe that the president, and not the Supreme Court, has the job of interpreting the law; how many Americans have had their conversations or e-mails monitored by the warrantless program; how much money has been wasted on inquiries into the private lives of innocent Americans; and if there are any limits to the broad powers that the president has claimed.
Additionally, the ACLU noted that previous statements made by the president, attorney general and others claimed the government was only engaging in wiretaps and surveillance with proper judicial approval. The revelations about the illegal NSA program indicate that these statements were, in fact, false.
"Congress must assert its proper role and seek the truth," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "A government that fails to honor its own laws is a government that fails its people. With the proper oversight and action, Congress can help restore the constitutional system of checks and balances."
To see the ACLU's advertisement in today's USA Today, go to: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/24060res20060206.html
To read the ACLU's "Top Ten Myths About the Illegal NSA Spying Program," go to: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/nsaspying/24074leg20060203.html
To read a summary of the ACLU's "Top Ten Myths About the Illegal NSA Spying Program," go to: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/nsaspying/24075leg20060203.html
To read more about the ACLU's concerns with the warrantless NSA domestic spying program, go to: http://www.aclu.org/nsaspying