President Bush’s Illegal Spying Is, First and Foremost, an Affront to the Rule of Law – Not Just Civil Liberties

Felon-in-Chief: The Bush team is hoping that Democrats will go after the president’s illegal wiretapping as an abuse of civil liberties, rather than as a flagrant violation of a United States law – in this case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Attacking the president’s violation of FISA purely as an affront to civil liberties helps the Bush regime because they can easily contort this position – with the media’s help – into “Democrats prefer civil rights for terrorists over national security.”

Certainly, the wiretapping of U.S. citizens without a warrant paves the way for unchecked abuse of power. Who knows whether Bush operatives have eavesdropped on their political enemies, including Democratic and Republican members of Congress.

Leaving all that aside, however, the damage the president has done to our democracy is very simple:

President Bush broke the law.

He has admitted he subverted FISA and conducted warrantless wiretaps hundreds of times. The Bushists have offered no valid reason for breaking the FISA law. Their main excuse, that it would take too long to get a FISA warrant, is pure baloney: The law grants them 72 hours after an emergency wiretap to obtain the warrant – and an even longer period in war time, which, arguably, we are in.

The FISA law clearly sets out what the penalties are for spying on U.S. citizens without first obtaining a FISA warrant:

Section 1827 imposes criminal sanctions for intentionally executing a physical search for foreign intelligence gathering purposes under color of law within the United States except as authorized by statute. In addition, criminal penalties attach to a conviction for intentionally disclosing or using information obtained by a physical search under color of law within the United States for the purpose of gathering intelligence information, where the offender knows or has reason to know that the information was obtained by a physical search not authorized by statute. In either case, this section provides that a person convicted of such an offense faces a fine of not more than $10,000, imprisonment for not more than five years or both.

During the Clinton years, Republicans repeated phrases “no one is above the law” and “the rule of law is paramount” as their mantras. Now we learn – as we suspected then – it was never about the rule of law with them. It was always about politics.

Where Are These Voices Today?

“No man is above the law, and no man is below the law. That’s the principle that we all hold very dear in this country.”

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), October 1998

“As John Adams said, we are a nation of laws, not of men. Our nation has survived the failings of its leaders before, but it cannot survive exceptions to the rule of law in our system of equal justice for all.”

Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) December 1998

“The rule of law protects you and it protects me from the midnight fire on our roof or the 3 a.m. knock on our door. It challenges abuse of authority… There is such a thing lurking out in the world called abuse of authority, and the rule of law is what protects you from it. And so it’s a matter of considerable concern to me when our legal system is assaulted by our nation’s chief law enforcement officer, the only person obliged to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.”

Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) December 1998

“The framers of the Constitution devised an elaborate system of checks and balances to ensure our liberty by making sure that no person, institution or branch of government became so powerful that a tyranny could be established in the United States of America. Impeachment is one of the checks the framers gave the Congress to prevent the executive or judicial branches from becoming corrupt or tyrannical.”

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), December 1998

“[A] nation of laws cannot be ruled by a person who breaks the law. Otherwise, it would be as if we had one set of rules for the leaders and another for the governed.”

Rep. Richard Armey (R-Texas) December 1998

“No one is above the law, not even the president.”

Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Connecticut), December 1998

17 Comments

  • Frankly, my dear, ...
    December 28, 2005 - 10:54 am | Permalink

    The law is quite clear. Bush must drink the hemlock (metaphorically) or else Socrates died in vain.

  • Jeff
    December 28, 2005 - 4:00 pm | Permalink

    This ought to be a no-brainer. Bush admitted he broke the law hundreds of times. The true conservatives should be furious and the Dems should be proceeding towards IMPEACHMENT for this issue alone. [There are quite a few other reasons to consider impeachment besides Bush’s obvious incompetence.]

  • December 28, 2005 - 4:47 pm | Permalink

    This is very much worse than merely breaking a law.

    For starters, imagine if Bush starts eavesdropping on Congressional Democrats. Some will have secrets (marital infidelity, sexual foibles, whatever) which would allow Bush to blackmail them into always voting how he wanted. Or he could expose the secrets come election time instead of using invented Rovian smears.

    Now imagine he eavesdrops on Congressional Republicans too. They seem a lot more prone to marital infidelity and sexual foibles. They also seem a lot more prone to corruption. The Republicans generally present a united front in public, but some of them are now distancing themselves from Bush. With a little blackmail most of them will be under his complete control.

    With that achieved, Bush will no longer have to overdose John Yoo with LSD so that he comes up with bizarre legal constructs that say Bush can do something that legislation never intended. Bush will be able to get any legislation he wants passed. A new bill defining torture as the pain equivalent to organ failure? No problem.

    Worse is if Bush can blackmail a supermajority in both houses of Congress plus majorities in three-fourths of state legislatures. Then he can amend the Constitution at will. So it’s goodbye XXIInd Amendment and hello President-for-life Dubya the 1st.

    Legislation won’t be enough to stop his eavesdropping. He’s already ignored existing legislation that should have stopped it. And we saw how he reacted to McCain’s amendment: a revision of the Army Interrogation Manual which will contain eight pages classified as secret (but we all know what they will contain).

    Impeachment is the only thing that will stop him. And it has to be done quickly, before he gets to the point where Congress is under his thumb. Once that happens, impeachment is no longer an option.

    Fortunately, Republicans (if they work out what will happen or have it pointed out to them) will impeach Bush. They may have been pretty much a rubber stamp for Bush but up until now they had the freedom to vote against Bush. They won’t want to give that up. And the corrupt ones would suspect (almost certainly correctly) that if Bush wiretaps them he’ll want a very large cut of their illicit deals.

    If we can make Congressional Republicans see where this is leading, impeachment is sure to follow.

  • December 29, 2005 - 5:27 am | Permalink

    Don’t kid yourself. Of COURSE they have been spying on those they view as a threat, as well as those they want to keep a short leash on, complete with choke chain, just to get their attention. How can anyone doubt that these losers have no scruples about anything at all? George W. would willingly hand over his daughters, as a little “perk”, if he stood to gain by it, just slip them a few million dollars to keep quiet, and be ready to do it again. Besides, he hates the competition. So while he does all of this to “protect us from the terrorists”, who will protect us from HIM?

  • Simon Jones
    December 29, 2005 - 7:17 am | Permalink

    No law was broken. The FISA cannot usurp the President’s constitutional power regarding national security. This is not just Bush’s position; it was the position of the Clinton, Carter and Reagan Administrations as well.

    Those who smear this Administration would welcome another 9/11 if it would damage Bush and the Republicans politically. If another terrorist atrocity occurs on American soil owing to the illegal disclosure of classified information by whomever in the government revealed the NSA program, these same hypocrits will surely blame Bush. But the blood will be on their hands.

  • Madison
    December 29, 2005 - 7:53 am | Permalink

    Simon – It is a bald-faced lie that other presidents conducted warrantless wiretaps. In every instance, Clinton, Carter et al followed FISA to the letter.

    It is you Bush-worshippers who are putting our democracy in jeopardy. You put your adoration of an ignorant, self-serving aristocrat above the interests of our great country, and that is the first step toward fascism.

    As Ben Franklin said, People who would sacrifice their liberty for security deserve neither.

    Bush deliberately broke the law. If Carter or, certainly, Clinton had done the same thing jackals on the right would have taken them down.

    It is just plain silly to think that a Democratic president could have gotten away with half the things Bush has done. The GOP investigated every single folly and foible in the Clinton White House – including the Clinton’s pet cat – and all they could come up with was a sex lie.

    If the Republicans and their helpers in the so-called librhul media could have gotten Clinton for violating FISA, they would have impeached him for it that day.

    The hypocrisy of brown-shirt worshippers of Dear Leader is only surmounted by their blindness to the evil they are enabling.

    You can lie to yourself but don’t try lying to normal people.

  • bill
    December 29, 2005 - 8:07 am | Permalink

    ah–sorry simon. don’t give us your bullshit gop talking points. The president is not king. he can not do whatever he likes–period. By your statements another 9/11 is not necessary–they already won. you are willing to give up your rights and privacy and have the whole american way of life changed so you can have some illusion of safety. that is not the way i want to live and i live in ny and new quite a few people who died that day. the government had plenty of info to stop it but did nothing–we don’t need to have my bag searched in the subway or have shrub read my emails. and if shrub spent more time trying to really secure the country instead of playing politics with lives then we would be better off. I will bet a million bucks that if this was clinton youd be scraming impeachment. Try being an american instead of a party hack and stop being so intellectually dishonest about what occured.

    Although i am sure if another 9/11 were to happen you would find some reason it was clintons fault.

    Another nation is made out to be utterly depraved and fiendish, while one’s own nation stands for everything that is good and noble. Every action of the enemy is judged by one standard – every action of oneself by another. Even good deeds by the enemy are considered a sign of particular devilishness, meant to deceive us and the world, while our bad deeds are necessary and justified by our noble goals, which they serve.: Eric Fromm

  • Simon Jones
    December 29, 2005 - 8:39 am | Permalink

    Madison,

    Your resort to the elementary logical fallacy of ad hominem attack betrays your meritless position and the hatred of Bush I was referring to by those who take pleasure in every American soldier’s death and who would welcome another 9/11.

    Clinton should have been impeached for the “brown-shirt” tactics which caused the deaths of innocent women and children in Waco and Ruby Ridge.

    And I worship only God and His son Jesus Christ.

  • Simon Jones
    December 29, 2005 - 8:45 am | Permalink

    bill,

    Like your fellow traveler Madison, your resort to the elementary logical fallacy of ad hominem attack betrays your meritless position and the hatred of Bush I was referring to by those who take pleasure in every American soldier’s death and who would welcome another 9/11.

    Also see my comments to Madison regarding Waco and Ruby Ridge.

    Why can’t liberals argue intelligently without resort to logical fallacies? Because their arguments are bereft of logic, relying on blind hatred to intimidate their opponents. I’m not buying.

    My civil liberties have been unaffected by anything Bush has done, though the civil liberties of almost 3,000 people were permanently affected by the terrorists on 9/11.

  • Madison
    December 29, 2005 - 9:03 am | Permalink

    Simon – Answer these questions honestly:

    1. If the main product of Iraq were olive oil, rather than petroleum oil, would Bush have invaded it?

    2. If we really went into Iraq to establish a beach head for democracy in the Arab world, wouldn’t it have been less costly in blood and treasure just to force the Kuwaitis to hold elections? After all, we saved their asses from Saddam in 1992. Seems like the least they could do is become a democracy.

    3. In the run up to the war, did the Bush team lie about the reasons for war? No – well then doesn’t that make them the most incompetent war-makers in military history? Can you name another instance where a country was taken to war on bad intel?

    Personally, as a proud American, I would PREFER to think my president lied to me than to think he bungled us into a war that has caused thousands of casualties among our brave service members and innocent Iraqi children and adults.

    How do you Bush worshippers sleep with all this innocent blood on your hands, especially when it’s there because – as your Dear Leader insists – he screwed up?

    So here’s the question: Did Bush lie about the reasons for war or did he merely make the worst blunder in military history?

  • December 29, 2005 - 10:09 am | Permalink

    “Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.” George W. Bush 4/20/2004 (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040420-2.html)

    “We looked at the possible scenarios. And the people responsible for helping us protect and defend came forth with the current program, because it enables us to move faster and quicker. And that’s important. We’ve got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent.

    We use FISA still — you’re referring to the FISA court in your question — of course, we use FISAs. But FISA is for long-term monitoring. What is needed in order to protect the American people is the ability to move quickly to detect.

    Now, having suggested this idea, I then, obviously, went to the question, is it legal to do so? I am — I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely.” – George W. Bush 12/19/2005

    The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) is the law of the land. It clearly states that you cannot wiretap Americans without a court order (as Bush so clearly stated in 2004). In order to ensure that the court doesn’t stop a wiretap that is required in an emergency there is even a section in FISA that allows the government to start the wiretap and they have up to 72 hours after they do so to get a court order from the FISA court AFTER the fact.

    The FISA court has approved over 15,000 wiretaps, it has denied 4 (those 4 were then rewritten, re-presented and approved).

    There was no valid reason to break the law of the land. But, while Bush was doing just that in 2004 he claimed that he wasn’t. He wanted everyone to know that there were constitutional guarantees in place ensuring that every wiretap was covered by a court order.

    What other laws is Bush allowed to break on a whim in secret? Why is he not accountable to the laws of the land? Where is the “Rule of Law”?

    This isn’t about the endless “war on terra” (which like the endless “war on drugs” is a phrase, not a “war”). This is about one man believing he is above the law. That the laws don’t apply to him, or to his actions. Dana Rohrabacher and Ed Royce made much of the “Rule of Law” over a lie in a civil deposition, now we have a Chief Executive who has admitted to breaking FISA. It’s been over a week and still not a peep from them on the “Rule of Law”. Guess the “Rule of Law” only counts if it comes with a semen-stained blue dress.

  • billy
    December 29, 2005 - 10:19 am | Permalink

    Bush broke the law. He admitted he broke the law. He defied the constitution he swore to uphold. This greater good crap he is pushing “…to protect us from terrorists” is just what Osama and his ilk want – to convert America into a country with no basic civil rights……hey, isn’t that the basis for most Arab nations? A paternal monarchy?

    These creeps don’t even trust the God they say they worship. their own Bible says to be honest in business dealings, that not to do this is detestable to the Lord. I guess since God appointed them to high office (they surely didn’t get there by election), they are free to do anything they want. I didn’t sign up for an Imperial Presidency.

    Surely trampling the Constitution outranks staining a blue dress.

  • Simon Jones
    December 29, 2005 - 3:19 pm | Permalink

    billy,

    I don’t recall Bush ever admitting he “broke the law.”

    Cass Sunstein, University of Chicago law professor and self-described liberal, doesn’t think Bush “broke the law.”

    I am an attorney. I have followed this story closely and have reviewed the relevant laws, namely the U.S. Constitution, the FISA and interpretive caselaw, and the Senate resolution authorizing Bush’s actions post-9/11. I don’t think Bush “broke the law.”

    Indeed, I believe those who conclusorily state that Bush “broke the law” are “trampling the Constitution” to the benefit of the terrorists.

  • December 29, 2005 - 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Bush had originally denied ordering domestic wiretaps; but, when he at last admitted ordering the wiretaps, he denied that they required the court order. Was he lying then —or is he lying now?

    When she was questioned about the wiretaps, Condoleezza Rice claimed that Bush never ordered anyone to do anything illegal. But proving the lie to the spin, it has since been learned that Bush was denied wiretaps but deliberately bypassed the court. Clearly —he has arrogated unto himself the power that should be reserved to the judiciary; he has undermined the Constitution and the very rule of law.

    Treason?

    And, in what one hopes is his final absurdity, Bush claims that he was only spying on people with “a history of blowing up trains, weddings and churches”. In fact, the wiretapping was on a scale scarcely imaginable.

    He’s not merely subverted the rule of law, he’s lied about his role in doing it. If that’s not treason, what is?

  • Madison
    December 29, 2005 - 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Simon –

    John Dean – who should know – said Bush became the first president ever to admit to an impeachable offense when he admitted he violated the FISA act.

    Btw, we’ll put you down as answering the questions this way:

    1. No. I admit that invading Iraq was about lining corporate profits for Bush and Cheney’s cohorts in the oil industry.

    2. It’s true we could have demanded that Kuwait democratize. What a waste of American blood and treasure.

    3. Yes, they lied. I, too, would rather have a president who lied over one who admits he is the biggest bungler in military history.

    Thanks for playing!

  • Steve Fletcher
    December 29, 2005 - 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Simon,
    “Ruby Ridge” took place 8-21-92, five months before Billy Boy became president, but I guess it’s not too far a stretch for you neocon morons to still blame him.

  • December 29, 2005 - 9:17 pm | Permalink

    NEED TO PUT BASTARD OUT OF OFFICE AND IN JAIL! LIKE EVERYONE ELSE WHEN THEY BREAK THE LAW! THEY GOT NIXON!! FOR HIS WIRETAPPING SO WHY IS THIS BASTARD SO SPECIAL! WAKE UP AMERICA!!!! WE GOT ANOTHER “DICK” IN THE WHITE HOUSE! BUT THIS ONE IS SCREWING US EVEN MORE HE IS AS BAD AS THE GAYS HE IS USING MOUTH! ASS! DICK! AND ALL HIS CRONIES TO GET US!!!!!

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