The Washington Post reports:
In response to a question from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) during an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, Gonzales suggested that the administration could decide it was legal to listen in on a domestic call without supervision if it were related to al-Qaeda.
Who decides if and why such a call is ďrelated to al-QaedaĒ? The Republican president. Who decides that such warrantless wiretapping are connected to ďal-QaedaĒ? The Republican president. So who gets to decide if such warrantless wiretapping will be expanded to other subjects? You guessed it: the Republican president. No courts and no legislative bodies have any say at any stage of this process, as far as the Republican leaders are concerned. No one but the Republican president, or those authorized by him, make these deteriminations.
This isnít as big of a deal as it might sound ó not because it isnít immoral and not because it isnít a desperate grab for unchecked, dictatorial power for Republicans, though. It isnít as big of a deal as it might sound because it doesnít represent anything new. The Republican administration has already asserted this authority for international telephone calls and there isnít really much of a distinction between those and domestic calls. Republican Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalesí comments here are completely consistent with the Republican administrationís understanding of itís own unchecked authority in wartime, so this sort of assertion was expected by everyone who has been paying attention.
Gonzales previously testified in the Senate that Bush had considered including purely domestic communications in the NSA spying program, but he said the idea was rejected in part because of fears of a public outcry.
Note: they havenít done it yet because they donít want to provoke a public outcry, not because they donít think that they already have the authority to do it. This guarantees one or both of two things: first, an effort by Republican operatives to convince people that a Republican leader has the authority to decide to monitor their phone calls if and when he deems it necessary and, second, no efforts will be spared to keep it secret once such domestic spying has started.
Maybe it already has:
ďThe Attorney Generalís comments today should not be interpreted to suggest the existence or non-existence of a domestic program or whether any such program would be lawful under the existing legal analysis,Ē [Justice spokeswoman Tasia] Scolinos said in a statement.
If a Republican president has the authority to order warrantless wiretaps on your phones, what says he doesnít have the authority to order warrantless searches of your home and business? What says he doesnít have the authority to detain you indefinitely and without access to legal counsel or family?
Whatís the difference between this and dictatorship? Jack M. Balkin fails to find much of a distinction:
The central problem with the Presidentís argument is that he (or his subordinates) get to decide whether or not a person is associated with a terrorist organization (or associated with an organization associated with a terrorist organization) without having to justify this decision to anyone else. As a result, he can withdraw an American citizen from the ordinary protections of the Bill of Rights (and statutory protections like those in FISA) merely by his own say so. [...]
It is the same argument that the President previously made to justify his ability to detain two U.S. citizens, Yasser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, in military prisons. Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan, but Padilla was detained in Chicago. Again, the Presidentís argument doesnít distinguish between what he does overseas and what he does within the United States. As far as the President is concerned, if he thinks someone is associated with our enemies (or associated with someone associated with our enemies), he can, without offering any proof of this accusation to a disinterested third party, treat them as an enemy soldier. And, as we know, the laws of war permit enemy soldiers to be captured, detained, and even killed. So, at least in theory, if he could capture Padilla in Chicago, he could also shoot him there.
This theory, taken to its logical conclusions, gives the President the ability to treat anyone living in the United States, including particularly U.S. citizens, as wartime enemies without having to prove their disloyalty to anyone outside the executive branch. In so doing, it offers him what can only be called dictatorial powers-- that is, the power to suspend ordinary civil liberties protections on his say so. The limits on what the President may do under this theory are entirely political-- the question is whether the American people will stand for what the President has done if they discover what he has done in their name. But if the American people donít know what their executive is doing, they can hardly be in a position to object. And so the President has tried to keep secret exactly what he has done under the unreasonable and overreaching theory of Presidential power that his Administration has repeatedly asserted in its legal briefs and public statements.
The powers and authority claimed by Republican president George W. Bush, defended by Republican administration officials and lawyers, and supported by Republican activists, are not consistent with the principles or even continuation of liberty, justice, and fairness in America. The powers and authority claimed by Republican leaders are consistent only with dictatorship ó itís the authoritarian impulse completely taking over conservative politics, rendering it almost indistinguishable from a deliberate attempt to end democratic liberty.
There are, of course, Republicans who arenít also authoritarians and who donít want America to be a dictatorship, regardless of the political orientation of whoís in charge. They have a problem, though, because this authoritarian impulse is being enacted solely under Republican control. This is a Republican program to expand presidential authority to the point where it is unchecked and the president can do pretty much anything he wants. For once, they canít blame Bill Clinton for this (not that some probably wonít try).
Itís Republican officials and lawyers who are, in effect, arguing that Congressí passage of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Al-Qaeda was the equivalent of the Weimar Reichstagís passage of the Enabling Act, giving the German cabinet the power to pass laws without the parliament. Itís Republican officials and lawyers who are arguing that the presidentís constitutional authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces is effectively the same as the Weimar Constitution's Article 48, which gave the German President dictatorial powers:
In case public safety is seriously threatened or disturbed, the Reich President may take the measures necessary to reestablish law and order, if necessary using armed force. In the pursuit of this aim, he may suspend the civil rights described in articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153, partially or entirely. [emphasis added]
Republicans donít appear to be doing anything to stop the Republican presidentís steps towards dictatorship; Democrats are doing too little. The Republican creation of a culture of secrecy surrounding everything they do has helped ensure that the public isnít informed about what is going on and what the government is doing in their name. Can the Republic survive?
Quick Poll: Do you think that the president has the authority to order wiretaps without court orders or oversight?
- Yes, on both international and domestic calls.
- Yes on international calls, no on domestic calls.
- Yes on domestic call, no on international calls.
- No on both international and domestic calls.
- I don't know.
- I don't care.
Quick Poll: Are Republican leaders, including George W. Bush, asserting dictatorial powers?
- Yes, and their goal is to bypass all other branches of government in the pursuit of power.
- Yes, but their goal isn't to create a dictatorship. That's just the effect.
- No, everything they are doing is duly authorized by Congress and the Constitution.
- I don't know.
- I don't care.