Viewpoint: Bush spy program has renewed impeachment calls

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-113580143621989.jpg’, ”, ‘George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-113580145621989.jpg’, ”, ‘John Dean at the Watergate hearings.’);

The imperial presidency of George W. Bush—actually Dick Cheney—is bumping against the limitations of partisan politics. Both Bush and Cheney view themselves as above the law, and both favor unlimited power for the White House.

They are scrambling to preserve that concept in the Congress after a firestorm erupted last week over the disclosure of a secret wiretap program of American citizens authorized privately by President Bush.

Ever since 9/11, Cheney has led a drive to create an astounding expansion of presidential powers, far beyond anything the Constitution allows. His efforts range from creating energy policy in secret with oil company executives to ignoring longstanding treaties, using 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq, scrapping the Geneva Conventions and now, spying on U.S. citizens.

It also has come to light that administration officials have been secretly checking radiation levels at Muslim properties, including mosques and private homes, as part of a top-secret program looking for nuclear bombs, according to U.S. News and World Report.

The magazine said the program covered more than 100 sites in the Washington, D.C., area alone, as well as five other cities. It said: “In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program.”

The covert wiretapping program against U.S. citizens has so agitated some members of Congress that there is already a verbal drumbeat for impeachment of the president. The issue is the Constitution versus the presidency and national security versus civil liberties.

This issue so disturbed Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., she asked four presidential scholars for their opinions on the opinion expressed by former White House Counsel John Dean that the president has admitted an “impeachable offense” when he told the nation he authorized the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless spying operations.

Sen. Boxer’s letter said: “On December 16, along with the rest of America, I learned that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without getting a warrant from a judge. President Bush underscored his support for this action in his press conference today.

“On Sunday, December 18, former White House Counsel John Dean and I participated in a public discussion that covered many issues, including this surveillance. Mr. Dean, who was President Nixon’s counsel at the time of Watergate, said that President Bush is ‘the first President to admit to an impeachable offense.’ This startling assertion by Mr. Dean is especially poignant because he experienced first hand the executive abuse of power and a presidential scandal arising from the surveillance of American citizens. Given your constitutional expertise, particularly in the area of presidential impeachment, I am writing to ask for your comments and thoughts on Mr. Dean’s statement.”

President Bush, in defending his actions, claims he has inherent powers as Commander-in-Chief to carry out warrantless wiretaps of U.S. citizens. That argument, however, does not withstand scrutiny.

In 1978, Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which expressly prohibits the conduct of warrantless wiretaps. The Congress made its position known in five different sections of the law. Further, it made such wiretaps criminal offenses. It specifically states there must be judicial oversight of such activities, and there is no presidential exception, says the Center for National Security Studies.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson was so concerned at Bush’s action that he resigned from the secret FISA court, which has oversight for government requests for surveillance and searches of foreigners and U.S. citizens suspected of terrorist activity, according to the newsletter Capitol Hill Blue.

Bush has acted directly against the will of Congress and has violated at least six federal laws and breached the Constitution. That amounts to a default of his duties and obligations as chief executive officer and deserves impeachment. George W. Bush, however, has donned a cloak of false patriotism, protectionism and fascism in the name of national interests and security, according to the Web site, Digital

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights put the federal government in the position of guaranteeing our inherent and inalienable rights. A wiretap without a warrant violates the 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.

Violation of the Constitution by the top federal officer who has sworn to uphold and defend it constitutes treason.

A prominent Republican senator has said he will hold public hearings on the spying issue, and the Democratic leader in the U.S. House and the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee claimed they had objected to the program, according to Information Clearing

While the calls for impeachment are likely to continue and the furor to resonate through the capital, there is not likely to be much in the way of concrete action until after the congressional elections next fall. The theory being that Bush may lose his majority in the House and Senate and therefore would be more vulnerable to such action.

As this is weighed in the balance, some central questions remain. For instance, what was wrong with the previous policy, where the administration had 72 hours to clear surveillance cases with the FISA court? The Bush administration claimed it couldn’t wait on the court, but it had the authority to act first and get clearance later. Then, it said that its evidence wouldn’t meet standards. If it would not, what kind of evidence was it?

There’s another issue—who handles domestic eavesdropping? The National Security Agency is not supposed to do so; that activity is in the scope of the FBI. There is nothing to prevent NSA foreign intercepts from being passed to the FBI for domestic followup. We don’t know what the story is on this because everything has been done in secret.

If there was ever a clearer case for transparency and ethics in such activities, we don’t know what it is. We need to flex some muscles on these issues because this is our country, not George Bush’s, and the government is supposed to work for us, not the other way around.

From the Dec. 28, 2005-Jan. 3, 2006, issue

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