08 January 2006

Bush spying was not authorized by Congress

Bush insists that his warrantless spying is within the scope of the law of the land. However, the nation's lawmakers suggest otherwise.

From The New York Times via truthout:
President Bush's rationale for eavesdropping on Americans without warrants rests on questionable legal ground, and Congress does not appear to have given him the authority to order the surveillance, said a Congressional analysis released Friday.

The analysis, by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, was the first official assessment of a question that has gripped Washington for three weeks: Did Mr. Bush act within the law when he ordered the National Security Agency, the country's most secretive spy agency, to eavesdrop on some Americans?

The report, requested by several members of Congress, reached no bottom-line conclusions on the legality of the program, in part because it said so many details remained classified. But it raised numerous doubts about the power to bypass Congress in ordering such operations, saying the legal rationale "does not seem to be as well grounded" as the administration's lawyers have argued.

The administration quickly disputed several conclusions in the report.

The report was particularly critical of a central administration justification for the program, that Congress had effectively approved such eavesdropping soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by authorizing "all necessary and appropriate force" against the terrorist groups responsible. Congress "does not appear to have authorized or acquiesced in such surveillance," the report said, adding that the administration reading of some provisions of federal wiretap law could render them "meaningless."

The president acknowledged last month that he had given the security agency the power to eavesdrop on the international telephone and e-mail communications of Americans and others in the United States without a warrant if they are suspected of ties to Al Qaeda.

The Justice Department is investigating the disclosure of the program, first reported in The New York Times. With Congressional hearings expected this month, the Congressional research report intensified debate on the program. Administration lawyers quickly responded that Mr. Bush had acted within his constitutional and statutory powers.

"The president has made clear that he will use his constitutional and statutory authorities to protect the American people from further terrorist attacks," said Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, adding that the program represented "a critical tool in the war on terror that saves lives and protects civil liberties at the same time."

Many Democrats and some Republicans pointed to the findings as perhaps the strongest indication that Mr. Bush might have exceeded his authority in fighting terrorism.

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, who leads the House Democratic Policy Committee, said the report "raises serious questions about the president's legal authority to conduct domestic spying."

Mr. Miller said the justifications for the program were unacceptable.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said the report made "absolutely clear that the legal authorities advanced by the president in justifying domestic surveillance are on very shaky ground."

Thomas H. Kean, a Republican who was chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, weighed in for the first time in the debate. Mr. Kean said he counted himself among those who doubted the legality of the program. He said in an interview that the administration did not inform his commission about the program and that he wished it had.
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