The stage may be set for a knockdown-drag-out fight between the president and a huge part of the Congress over the president’s so-called spying on U.S. citizens under suspicion with regard to phone conversations flowing between American citizens in this country and people living out of this country, with or without citizenship. Some phone conversations could well be, and probably are, those carried out entirely in this country, as well. The furor raised mostly by the democrats accrues to their insistence that this sort of thing abridges an individual’s liberty, though, apparently, they have come up with no proof that any citizen has lost his/her liberty because of the alleged spying. The president counters with the notion that under the powers granted him by the Congress after the events of 11 September 2001 he has the Constitutional power to perform necessary surveillance of anyone suspected of acting against this nation in any capacity. To back up his claim, he points to the fact that information gained in this way thus far has been vital in foreclosing acts against the safety of American citizens.
The conflict boils down to whether or not the president can authorize the use of this super-intelligence tool, used 30 times since 9/11, without first having his representative appear before a judge to get a warrant allowing this intrusion. The president insists that there is sometimes no time to go through that process in this technology-driven atmosphere in which things happen so fast (including changes in location of people, places, and things) that the advantage of surprise is lost in the process of finding a judge, convincing him/her of the need for a warrant, etc.
Also in the picture is the tug-of-war between the president and the Congress over who has the say-so in the matter. Senator Feingold, for instance, on the PBS evening-news program on the 19th stated that if the president didn’t like the way things are, he should make this known to Congress, with the hope of getting things changed to his liking. Apparently, the senator had not thought about how unbelievably much time would be lost in attempting to go that route, not to mention the leaking of everything to the media by senators who love to talk. Senator Leahy, for instance, is sometimes called by this wag “Senator Leaky.” Senator Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, seemed quickly off the mark the other day to condemn what’s been going on, with the usual huffing and puffing endemic to those always seeking out a camera. Lately, he seems to be backing off and now speaks of holding hearings when the committee can get around to it.
Something that may have impacted Specter a bit is the fact that President Bush has met 12 times with Congressional members of both parties in this process, apparently gaining their assent. In other words, there are some folks in Congress, democrats as well as republicans, who have been aware of what’s been happening and are now on the spot, having to admit they were part of the problem or the solution, depending upon one’s take. Senator Rockefeller, apparently one of the democrats in on the know, has already begun speaking of something like “limited information,” perhaps not realizing he’s admitting to a certain gullibility if that’s true. This is not unexpected, considering that some of the current Congressional anti-Iraq-War pooh-bahs voted to give the president war powers back in 2001 on the basis of the same intelligence he possessed. Now, they castigate him for lying to the people, all the while not realizing they’re pointing to their own culpability, since they had the same intelligence. In other words, they lied to their own constituencies if they claimed the president lied. One wonders if these people should be allowed out in public un-chaperoned. The attorney general has also approved the plan, so where does that leave everyone legally? The odds in this corner are that there will not be a hearing for the simple reason that too many folks will get all embarrassed. As for the president, he said on the 19th that he will continue to do exactly what he’s been doing…in other words – it’s in your face, senators, get a life while I protect the public, my main job.
Ordinarily, a citizen should never be hassled with a view toward his having no recourse to the courts. His freedom should not be threatened without cause, and then only through the proper protocols as spelled out in the law. Absent any legal requirement, his freedom should not be abridged. However, the events of 9/11 changed the landscape considerably, so that now the nation is in a quasi-state of war, with the Congress having joined the president in waging, though not declaring, it. It would be hard to declare war on terrorists, even though countries harboring/sustaining them have been invaded militarily.
Enter former presidents Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Each suspended the writ of habeas corpus during a time of conflict, Lincoln during the Civil War and Roosevelt during World War II. This means that citizens were hassled on the say-so of the president or on that of the president and the Congress, with the Supreme Court upholding actions. Plainly, at a time of mortal confrontation with the enemy there is little latitude for instituting action, in either the matter of timing or method of operation. With respect to the actions of Lincoln, one can read the history books. With respect to the actions of Roosevelt (mainly the forced movement and/or internment of both Japanese immigrants and their progeny, American citizens, from sensitive west-coast areas), those who remember the panic in the Pearl Harbor era instigated by the suspicion that some members of the sizeable and relatively recent Japanese population in the country’s most vulnerable area have some understanding of the whole matter. The Japanese were later compensated, though more nominally than otherwise, but there remains the wondering if some advantage was not gained through FDR’s actions. With data gathered and reported by Japanese spies on Oahu and Maui, the Japanese admiralty knew the location and quantity of vessels of each type at Pearl Harbor. It takes no stretch of the imagination to believe that Japanese spies had infiltrated coastal areas on the U.S. shores of the Pacific Ocean.
In the final analysis, the proof is in the pudding. There have been no terrorist attacks in this country since 9/11, and there have been no reports of American citizens losing their liberty because of anything that has happened in the surveillance effort. Many suspects have been deported, however, and perhaps a handful of citizen-suspects have been detained without benefit of counsel. Matters will shake out in the end, and the saying still remains that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.