Sunday, February 05, 2006

Rogue Nations and other Rites of Passage -- 2/5/06

The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet tomorrow to consider whether this administration's surveillance of its citizens, on the part of the National Security Agency, is legal.

It is the contention of the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter, that the NSA program is illicit, and violates a 1978 law which calls for a Foreign Intellligence Service Act court to approve, and issue, warrants before this government can spy on its citizens. Administration spokesperson, and attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, joined others, including NSA head Michael Hayden, in insisting that the FISA law is too cumbersome to deal with in a post 9/11 world. Indeed, this administration has also shown that it considers the Constitution, the Magna Carta, and the Geneva Conventions too cumbersome to deal with in its war against terrorists. Does life in "the new normal" give us the right to dispose of more than 500 years of jurisprudence, and international law, as a way of combatting an intangible, and mostly amorphous, "enemy." The underlying question is do we need a declared enemy; isn't corporate greed enough?

Further, one wonders if those liberties that have been taken with the word "torture" are being transferred to the term "terrorist," especially with regard to so-called "domestic terrorism," and why it is that members of Congress, to paraphrase a line from a Dylan Thomas poem, "go gently into that night." Linguistic sleight of hand becomes a crucial issue when considering that the label "terrorist" is applied to rationalize any intrusion into the personal lives, and activities, of its citizens on the part of this government

Attorney general Gonzales joined all the president's men and women (if you include Condy Rice) in citing a 2001 resolution, which was signed by Congress, authorizing the use of force in the war on terror, as granting permission to conduct surveillance in defiance of the 1978 FISA law. The government contends that the same Congress that wants to hold hearings about the NSA, and its electronic wiretapping, and phone taps, signed the 2001 resolution that gave this executive branch the power to circumvent FISA, as well as the Fourth Amendment.

Senator Specter calls the suggestion that Congress authorized unilateral, and universal, executive privilege, as well as the right of this executive branch to launch a pre-emptive strike against those citizens for whom it was elected to represent "strained and unrealistic." My, my, my, whoever said diplomacy is dead. The policy of hiding behind an American flag and, at the same time, keeping the increasing number of servicemen and women's coffins from view is not only disturbing, but egregious, precedent-setting, and makes the bungled break-in at Watergate look like a walk in the park.

Stay tuned---the Senate Judiciary Committee has requested that the Justice Department release all documents relevant to how they justify the NSA electronic international and domestic surveillance. Specter has been described as skeptical about the legality of the NSA assault on privacy, but it doesn't take a skeptic to see that, from a federal prosecutor in the Plame leak case to the president's refusal to make public photographs taken of him and fallen lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, this administration's policy of hide and seek engenders secrecy more than disclosure. Arguably, if half the politicians in Washington got the work-out that the Freedom Of Information Act has, over the past 5 years, they'd be one healthy bunch.

When asked by a reporter, were there to be a problem with the release of DOJ d0cuments that speak to the legality, and constitutionality (illegal search and seizure) of the NSA program. if the Senate Judiciary Committee would subpoena the reports, and/or those individuals in defiance of their request, Senator Specter responded by saying "I won't be timid." One can only hope that he will be as "timid" in holding those who defied the FISA law as accountable as government counsel will be in subpoenaing, and hunting down, those journalists, editors, and publishers involved in Leak-gate I, (aka Plame-gate), and its sequel,Leak-gate II, NSA-gate. It is also hoped that we, as citizens of what was once a thriving democracy, may see even greater revelations about this program that was created secretly, given "classified" status, and exists as an egregious effront to due process, the right to privacy, as well as the right to be charged, and convicted, before being deprived of one's constitutional rights.

Moreover, a government that stifles dissent in the name of national security is moving closer to the day when it will view its own citizens as "enemy combatants;" make no mistake, when that day comes, we will no longer be the United States of America, but instead a rogue nation in the midst of civil war. Sound familiar? It seems to me that we are fast becoming the kind of state we went into Iraq to eliminate, and maybe it is time, in the poet's words, to "rage against the dying of the light."