Friday, December 16, 2005

Washington Post: Bush is a Criminal

This report actually originates with the New York Times, but I like to link to the WaPo because they have this nifty little thing that links back to your blog when you link to one of their stories.

In any case, they are reporting that Bush broke the law. Not "may have broken" or "allegedly broke" or any of that happy crappy. Bush told the NSA to spy on Americans without a warrant. There are laws against that and while there are some grey areas, they aren't big enough to fit this conduct into.

We are about to witness, of course, the very counterfactual contortions to which I alluded in the Froomkin piece I wrote for DU the other day. It won't do to cover this story straight, because there really is no "other side." The United States has laws. Bush broke them. There's not really much else to it.

But of course it won't do in modern journalism to cover the story this way. We must be objective, by which we mean of course ignoring objective reality and bringing you the subjective interpretations of "both sides." If there aren't two sides, you have to invent one.

We can't say for certain what form that will take, but I have a guess. Debate in the dailies and on the weekly screaming head shows will focus on whether or not it was a good idea, in a broad sense, for the NSA to have the right to spy on Americans. Republicans will no doubt argue that in the "War on Terror" law enforcement needs new expanded powers and blah blah blah.

Of course, all of this GOP blather will be completely irrelevant. If the president feels he needs to do something that is currently against the law, his recourse is to have the law changed. This avenue is particularly open to a president whose party controls both houses of Congress AND is enjoying, as Bush was at the time, the more or less blind support of nine-tenths of the electorate. Indeed, much about US law enforcement WAS changed back then, by a piece of legislation called the PATRIOT Act, which is currently up for extension in the Senate.

Put differently, it's fine to have a debate about whether the president ought to be able to order warrantless wiretaps of American citizens, or whether he ought to be able to authorize torture, or whether he ought to be able to call Dominoes in a disguised voice and order a hundred pizzas to be delivered to Ted Kennedy's house.

We can talk about any and all of those things. But we have to have the conversation before the president does it. If there's a law, and someone breaks it, there's no conversation to be had at that point about the prudence of the law. It's a crime. Period.

And unfortunately for the GOP (and, even more unfortunately, for the sanity of the discourse), there's no way to cover that in a balanced way. Bush is a criminal. You can count on journalists like Dan Froomkin to tell you that, and to call others to account for trying to obscure it. That's why you won't find his work in any major print daily.


Anonymous said...

I need to know which law was actually broken.

I got into a discussion about this with a coworker, and we noticed that none of the press reports actually identify the law that was broken.

The best I can come up with is the fourth amendment dealing with search and seizure, but I can't find references to specific laws. I want to see the actual text of a law in US code, alongside a credible description of what they were doing that clearly violates that law.

There's more ambiguity in the post article. What keeps the NSA from claiming they were only monitoring Americans insofar as when an overseas terrorist (who they were really monitoring) made a call to an American, they were listening in? Maybe they were just monitoring the terrorist, which snared an American here and there - not explicitly the American. Also, NYTimes says that when they wanted to monitor purely American communications, they "eventually" sought a warrant. This article practically seems to write the gray area into the issue for the NSA.

It's not that I doubt the NSA is guilty of a crime here, I just hate it when these articles make a statement and don't provide the backup evidence...not so much as a reference to US law.

From the article:

Under the agency's longstanding rules, the N.S.A. can target for interception phone calls or e-mail messages on foreign soil, even if the recipients of those communications are in the United States.

OK, so if the call is Foreign Terrorist -> US Citizen, it's probably OK. Other than in situations where domestic wiretaps are couched in warrant-seeking language, where's the violation here? Specificity!!!

PhD9 said...

This one is quote specigfying which law was broken.

The law governing clandestine surveillance in the United States, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, prohibits conducting electronic surveillance not authorized by statute.

Anonymous said...

You might be interested in a report I did a few years ago regarding the NSA spying on us domestically.

It includes a treatment of how they perform Internet email monitoring, by way of my describing how I monitored the emails of more than 7000 employees on Wall Street.


RBP said...

This thing is blowing up bigger and faster than the white house spin machine can handle. Rove is damaged goods. The president is in the awkward position of having to protect Rove, his chief protector, from the NSA story. Or more precisely, he has to make sure that the Libby/Plame investigation does not cross path's with this new NSA investigation. Although this new one looks to have more bi-partisan congressional teeth. Bush is telling everyone Congress authorized his actions. Specter has made public statements questioning Bush's assertion. Frist, distracted by his own HCA investigation is eyeing '08 feverishly and will not go to the mat for the president. Nor will Senator Brownback or any other GOP hopeful. So today the president came out and did the only thing he could do, admit what he did.
What will this cost the president and his party? What will the specter of our government spying on it's citizens again mean to the rest of the world?
Since 9/11 most of the rest the world, particularly Europe, has made a distinction between the American people and the American government. Will they give us the benefit of the doubt after this latest disclosure, if nothing comes of it?

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