Expanding Presidential Powers; Bush Wants to Be 'Sole Law of the Land'

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 9, 2006 | Go to article overview

Expanding Presidential Powers; Bush Wants to Be 'Sole Law of the Land'


Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As Congress begins to look into the president's authorization of the National Security Agency's warrantless searches of e-mails and phone calls into - and out of - the United States, a question many Americans are asking was posed to the president at a Dec. 19 press conference by Peter Baker of The Washington Post: "If the global war on terrorism is to last for decades ... does that mean we're going to see ... a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive branch in American society?"

The president had no direct answer, but he did say it was "shameful" of the New York Times to break this story. However, the more we know about the porous nature of the president's defense of his authorization of the NSA's bypassing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, it's becoming clearer that the New York Times should not have held the story for a year at the Bush administration's request.

As the business publication Barron's Financial Weekly put it on its Dec. 26 front page: "The pursuit of terrorism does not authorize the president to make up new laws." And in the Dec. 21 Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer of Counterpane Internet Security, cut to the core of why disclosure has led to the resignation, in protest, of federal District Judge James Robertson, a member of the FISA court, and why others on that secret court are concerned about the president's action.

"This is not a partisan issue between Democrats and Republicans," Mr. Schneier writes, "it's a president unilaterally overriding the Fourth Amendment, Congress and the Supreme Court. Unchecked presidential power has nothing to do with how much you either love or hate George W. Bush. You have to imagine this power in the hands of the person you most don't want to see as president, whether it be Dick Cheney or Hillary Rodham Clinton."

The reason, as James Madison foretold, that a free press is crucial to keeping us free is that once a story of this magnitude breaks, we keep learning more about what we need to know as a free people. For example, the president's credibility has hardly been enhanced when he keeps maintaining that, in this war on terror, there is no time to wait for a warrant from the FISA court in an emergency.

But the law says that in an emergency the government can engage in surveillance right away and has 72 hours to go back to FISA court for a warrant. …

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