Tuesday, January 17, 2006

NYT: "Two Groups Planning to Sue Over Federal Eavesdropping" (Eric Licthblau)

Two leading civil rights groups plan to file lawsuits Tuesday against the Bush administration over its domestic spying program to determine whether the operation was used to monitor 10 defense lawyers, journalists, scholars, political activists and other Americans with ties to the Middle East.
The two lawsuits, which are being filed separately by the American Civil Liberties Union in Federal District Court in Detroit and the Center for Constitutional Rights in Federal District Court in Manhattan, are the first major court challenges to the eavesdropping program.
Both groups are seeking to have the courts order an immediate end to the program, which the groups say is illegal and unconstitutional. The Bush administration has strongly defended the legality and necessity of the surveillance program, and officials said the Justice Department would probably oppose the lawsuits on national security grounds.

[. . .]
The Center for Constitutional Rights plans to sue on behalf of four lawyers at the center and a legal assistant there who work on terrorism-related cases at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and overseas, which often involves international e-mail messages and phone calls. Similarly, the plaintiffs in the A.C.L.U. lawsuit include five Americans who work in international policy and terrorism, along with the A.C.L.U. and three other groups.
[. . .]
Bill Goodman, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that in suing in federal court to block the surveillance program, his group believed "without question" that Mr. Bush violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs wiretaps, by authorizing the security agency operation.

The above is from Eric Lichtblau's "Two Groups Planning to Sue Over Federal Eavesdropping" in this morning's New York Times.

Al Gore is mentioned, rightly, by Lichtblau in the article for his speech yesterday but let's note the opening of Gore's speech (via Common Dreams):

Congressman Barr and I have disagreed many times over the years, but we have joined together today with thousands of our fellow citizens-Democrats and Republicans alike-to express our shared concern that America's Constitution is in grave danger.

That would Bob Barr, Republican. As Tracey Schmitt and others crawl out from under their rocks to slime Al Gore, it might be interesting for the press to give some play to Barr's position.

Link will take you to Republican Bob Barr's website for "Barr to Introduce Al Gore at Bipartisan Event:"

Former Congressman Bob Barr will introduce former Vice President Al Gore at a bipartisan event hosted by the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. The speech will be held in the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Constitution Hall (1776 D Street, NW in Washington D.C.), Monday, January 16 at 12 pm (doors open at 10:30 a.m.).
The Liberty Coalition organizes and coordinates non-partisan public policy, and partners with conservative organizations such as the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens Against Government Waste, and Gun Owners of America.
Liberty Coalition also counts among its membership various liberal organizations such as Moveon.org, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Democrats.org.
The focus of the event will highlight the growing concerns of conservative and liberal groups over domestic spying and the vanishing checks and balances necessary to preserve Americans’ civil liberties.
For further information, please visit www.bobbarr.org or contact Taryn Jones at 770.836.1776.

We're a site for the left and we don't usually highlight the right but as Schmitt and others try to slime Gore as making off the mark, partisan remarks, it might do the press well (and the public) to note Barr's participation. (Disclosure, I know Barr and have spoken with him on more than one occassion regarding the Patriot Act.)

As Ruth noted, Bill Goodman discussed the NSA spying on last week's Law & Disorder and you can hear an archived broadcast of that program at their website. I believe one point made in that broadcast is also raised in Lowell Bergman, Erich Lichtblau, Scott Shane and Don Van Natta Jr.'s "Spy Agency Data After Sept. 11 Led F.B.I. to Dead Ends," the added weight of the raw (and illegal) information coming through:

F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. The spy agency was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans' international communications and conducting computer searches of phone and Internet traffic. Some F.B.I. officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans' privacy.
As the bureau was running down those leads, its director, Robert S. Mueller III, raised concerns about the legal rationale for a program of eavesdropping without warrants, one government official said. Mr. Mueller asked senior administration officials about "whether the program had a proper legal foundation," but deferred to Justice Department legal opinions, the official said.

From Elizabeth Holtzman's "The Impeachment of George W. Bush" (The Nation):

What then was the reason for avoiding the FISA court? President Bush suggested that there was no time to get the warrants. But this cannot be true, because FISA permits wiretaps without warrants in emergencies as long as court approval is obtained within three days. Moreover, there is evidence that the President knew the warrantless wiretapping was illegal. In 2004, when the violations had been going on for some time, President Bush told a Buffalo, New York, audience that "a wiretap requires a court order." He went on to say that "when we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."
Indeed, the claim that to protect Americans the President needs to be able to avoid court review of his wiretap applications rings hollow. It is unclear why or in what way the existing law, requiring court approval, is not satisfactory. And, if the law is too cumbersome or inapplicable to modern technology, then it is unclear why the President did not seek to revise it instead of disregarding it and thus jeopardizing many otherwise legitimate anti-terrorism prosecutions. His defenders' claim that changing the law would have given away secrets is unacceptable. There are procedures for considering classified information in Congress. Since no good reason has been given for avoiding the FISA court, it is reasonable to suspect that the real reason may have been that the wiretaps, like those President Nixon ordered in Watergate, involved journalists or anti-Bush activists or were improper in other ways and would not have been approved.

From an e-mail that Eddie passed on, sent out by Democrats.com:

By a margin of 52% to 43%, Americans want Congress to consider impeaching President Bush if he wiretapped American citizens without a judge's approval, according to a new poll commissioned by After Downing Street and conducted by Zogby International.
"The American people are not buying Bush's outrageous claim that he has the power to wiretap American citizens without a warrant. Americans believe terrorism can be fought without turning our own government into Big Brother," said AfterDowningStreet.org co-founder Bob Fertik.
Read the results and print out a one-page flyer summarizing the various polls that have been done on impeachment:


Remember to check out Democracy Now! today.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.