Thursday, August 17, 2006

ruat caelum fiat iustitia (let the heavens fall so long as justice is done)

Many legal questions have subjective and uncertain answers. But the legality of Bush's domestic surveillance program is not one of them. The program violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which prohibits "electronic surveillance" of "any wire or radio communication sent by or intended to be received by a particular, known United States person who is in the United States," except as authorized by law. Since the administration has admitted that it intercepted telephone calls to and from American citizens in the United States without getting a court order, it clearly broke the law.

Like most Americans, I don't want my conversations listened into or my house searched without public standards and real accountability to insure that the standards are being complied with.

Lucky for me, this attitude has been made into federal law. Congress and prior presidents have agreed me and enacted statutes requiring the president to respect them. This president flatly claims a right to ignore any statute that he thinks stands in the way of unchecked powers to deal with terrorism. Anti-liberty folks like Joe, think this is a trivial matter compared to the immense advantages the country may gain in the form of intelligence.

There is just about everything wrong with Joe's argument. It is naïve in the extreme to accept the president's daunting claim to be free of any obligation to the law whenever he thinks that would be handy in fighting terrorism. If God is good a Democrat will soon be in power. Would Joe grant him the right to abrogate any law at any time? It's also a mistake to deny that it is a profoundly dangerous to accept a presidential claim to, secretly and without known standards, set aside statutes designed to protect American citizens against the clumsiness, wrong headedness, and occasional malice of executive officials.

As Publius said, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

The Bush administration's arrogant assertion that it has the power to ignore or break the law when it sees fit is a genuine scandal. It removes the internal controls put in place by the founders to protect us all from the capricousness of men.

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