Yesterday began hearings in the US Senate's Judiciary Committee about the legality of the warrantless wiretaps. The Bush administration, as represented by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, of course, says that there isn't anything illegal about them. The administration says that in this country, as in the former Soviet Union, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and other totalitarian states, the President has the power to ignore any law and the constitution itself in order to protect its citizens.
The transcript of yesterday's hearings is on the Washington Post's web site (registration required; sorry), and is a fascinating read, to see how Gonzales dances around the questions, refusing to answer many, and continues to try to defend King George's ridiculous assertion that he was actually allowed to do this. It's also interesting that the resistance is not just from the eight Democrats on the committee, but from at least half the Republicans. None of us, regardless of political party, like our rights trampled, it seems; that, at least, is refreshing to see.
And here's another thing that's interesting: AG Gonzales was not sworn in. Check out the discussion about that in the transcript, as well as Gonzales's statement here:
I also said that my answers would be the same, whether or not I was under oath or not.Indeed; what's the point at all, then? Well, it's a legal one, of course: If he isn't under oath, he can't be held to account if he doesn't tell us the truth.
Then we have some of these excerpts:
BIDEN: Can you assure us, General, that you are fully, totally informed and confident that you know the absolute detail with which this program is being conducted? Can you assure us you personally can assure us that no one is being eavesdropped upon in the United States other than someone who has a communication that is emanating from foreign soil by a suspected terrorist, Al Qaida or otherwise?
GONZALES: Sir, I can't give you absolutely assurance of the kind that you've asked for.
GONZALES: Nothing would excuse false statements before the Congress.
LEAHY: I'm talking about within this country, under this authority you have talked about. Does he have the power under your authority to wiretap Americans within the United States if they're involved in Al Qaida activity?
GONZALES: I can't give you assurances. That is not what the president has authorized for this program.
LEAHY: Did it authorize the opening of first-class mail of U.S. citizens? That you can answer yes or no.Indeed; and he never did answer the question. The real answer appears to be that this president reserves for himself the power to do anything. And that is dangerous.
GONZALES: There is all kinds of wild speculation about...
LEAHY: Did it authorize it?
GONZALES: There is all kinds of wild speculation out there about what the president has authorized and what we're actually doing. And I'm not going to get into a discussion, Senator, about...
LEAHY: Mr. Attorney General, you're not answering my question. I'm not asking you what the president authorized.
Does this law -- you're the chief law enforcement officer of the country -- does this law authorize the opening of first-class mail of U.S. citizens, yes or no, under your interpretation?
GONZALES: Senator, I think that, again, that is not what is going on here.
We're only focused on international communications where one part of the communication is Al Qaida. That's what this program is all about.
LEAHY: You haven't answered my question .
Now, one can note in the transcript, and in other news reports, that it's not just Democrats like Biden and Leahy, quoted above, who are pushing on this. As I said, it's half the Republicans too. What does King George do about that? The democratic thing, of course: He threatens them. Have we learned nothing over the years?
I'll close with something that former-President Carter said about the issue:
Under the Bush administration, there's been a disgraceful and illegal decision — we're not going to the let the judges or the Congress or anyone else know that we're spying on the American people, and no one knows how many innocent Americans have had their privacy violated under this secret act.I hope so too.
I hope that eventually the case will go to the Supreme Court. I have no doubt that when it's over, the Supreme Court will rule that Bush has violated the law.