Where Is America?
By now you’ve probably heard that President Bush authorized the use of the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens, despite laws clearly prohibiting that. Not to mention its obvious contravention of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution.
The President justified it thus:
To fight the war on terror, I am using authority vested in me by Congress, including the Joint Authorization for Use of Military Force, which passed overwhelmingly in the first week after September the 11th. I’m also using constitutional authority vested in me as commander in chief.
In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaida and related terrorist organizations…
The activities I authorized are reviewed approximately every 45 days. Each review is based on a fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government and the threat of catastrophic damage to our homeland.
During each assessment, previous activities under the authorization are reviewed. The review includes approval by our nation’s top legal officials, including the attorney general and the counsel to the president. I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al-Qaida and related groups.
In other words, when Congress voted permission for the President to act against al Qaeda, they were giving him permission to do anything he felt would aid that effort — legal or not.
I won’t waste time explaining how the “reviewed every 45 days” argument is a canard — since the reviewers are the President’s men, its silliness should be obvious — but I did want to share the question that has gnawed at me since I learned of this:
Where is America?
The President’s argument is essentially that for the duration of the conflict, he is Caesar — holder of power unbounded by the laws of men.
In the face of this naked assertion of power, I wonder: where is America? Why do we not hear cries for impeachment? Where is the spirit that animated the greatest days of our national life?
Where is the nation whose fathers pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” in opposition to unlimited executive authority?
Where is the nation that bred Thomas Jefferson, who said “the Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants“?
Where is the nation that endured years of bloody civil war so that all Americans might enjoy the blessings of liberty?
Where is the nation that sent its sons to die at Normandy and Anzio and Iwo Jima so that the world could be free of the jackboot of Fascism?
Are we the same nation as that? Do we have the same spirit as they did? Can we rouse ourselves from our satellite TV and XBox 360 long enough to reaffirm the most basic tenet of the American creed: that unrestrained power is incompatible with the maintenance of a free republic?
Where is America?
In the weeks to come, as we see if the President’s brazen actions bring down any consequences upon him, we will discover the answer to that question.
December 23, 2005
Here, here. My comments got too long-winded, so I posted them:
December 27, 2005
Just to play devil’s advocate here (cuz that is my job)…
During the whole Katrina disaster, weren’t you talking about how if you were president, you’d send in the military, fix things, and then deal with the issues afteward, even if it might have been against the law to do that way? Just a thought…
By the way, There is an argument that this presidential spying is constitutional, in that the program would not violate the fourth amendment. But the program does violate established FISA laws, so that point is moot since the president is breaking the established law.
December 28, 2005
“During the whole Katrina disaster, weren’t you talking about how if you were president, you’d send in the military, fix things, and then deal with the issues afteward, even if it might have been against the law to do that way?”
I’ve been waiting for somebody to bring this up.
You only got half of my point from that post. What I was saying was not simply that the President should ignore the law. Rather, my point was that the President, if he or she truly feels constrained from doing The Right Thing by the law, should ignore it — and take their case to the Congress and the American people so they can judge the merits of his/her decision.
THAT is what is so craven about Bush’s action – the way he has cloaked it in a veil of secrecy so opaque that Senators who are told of it cannot even brief their colleagues. If he truly feels that FISA procedures are keeping us from winning the “war on terror” — if he feels so strongly about it that the only moral thing he can do is break the law — he should have made his case to the public so we could, if necessary, hold him accountable.
This was the fulcrum of my point in the earlier post: that the only way breaking the law is acceptable for a leader is if they are willing to accept the consequences of their action.
In this sense it is a doctrine that flows from the same spirit as that which ennobles civil disobedience: Rosa Parks broke the law, but she did so because the law itself was wrong, and she was willing to suffer the consequences of breaking it rather than comply with an unjust law. Today we look upon Ms. Parks’ actions as justified, because we as a society examined her case and concluded that she was correct, that the law she had broken was unjust and did not deserve our respect.
When a President chooses to step outside the boundaries of law and govern on pure executive power, it is, in a sense, the ultimate act of civil disobedience. If that President doesn’t have enough faith in his own case to let the American people judge it, he should probably reconsider whether it’s strong enough to justify breaking the law for it.
NB: this is actually quite similar to a position taken by Thomas Jefferson when he contemplated the same issue. See
September 5, 2008
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