Friday, February 03, 2006

Wiretapping Battle Gets a Hearing in the Senate

On Monday, Arlen Specter of The Senate Judiciary Committee, will open hearings over the super secretive warantless wiretap program. The hearings will help determine if the president's actions were legal or illegal. Supporters of the president say warrantless wiretaps are agressive and appropriate, while many Democrats chalk it up to presidential overreaching.

You might recall that the program was leaked in a report to The New York Times. Since that time, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have attempted to repair the damage, with mixed results as evidenced by recent polls.

The administration consistently argues that the Constitution gives the President, as commander in chief, the authority to do what he sees fit to protect the country.

The message from the White House clearly seems to be saying that Republicans are more committed than Democrats to protecting Americans against terrorism. Speaking at a National Republican Committee meeting, Karl Rove, suggested that the NSA wiretapping program would be at the heart of the GOP strategy in the upcoming midterm elections: "President Bush believes if al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why," Rove said. "Some important Democrats clearly disagree."

Is this accurate? Democrats in Congress, including Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, say that they want the president possible to find terrorists. The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman of California, has pointed out that the White House has asked Congress to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) several times since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks...and Congress has always agreed. Democrats have some Republican allies, including Specter, and fellow GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina.

NPR concludes that Democrats suspect the President's reluctance for amending the law -- and thereby ending the debate over the legality of the program -- stems from not wanting to lose the political issue, and possibly the precedent for expanding presidential powers in other areas.

We won't make any progress until we can overcome our very different views of what core issues are at stake. Is it protecting ourselves against terrorism regardless of the cost? We can't let fear allow us to give up core values, such as civil liberties, that make us American.

Postscript: Of interest to fellow Nebraskans, from NPR.

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