But when a government’s leader—the head of a democracy who constantly talks about bringing freedom to foreign dictatorships—makes the order to spy on his own people, in direct contravention to the very Constitution he has sworn to protect and defend, you have to wonder: Are they right?
Despite the existence of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose job it is to vet national-security-sensitive wiretap requests, President Bush felt he had to circumvent the court and the law. This despite the fact that since 1978 the court has heard more than 18,000 wiretap requests and rejected only five of them—all during the Bush administration, in 2003 and ’04.
According to Bush administration lawyers, the president’s commander-in-chief status supercedes all other constitutional checks and balances during wartime. “National security” is a penumbra that elevates the president above the “first among equals” position they feel the executive already enjoys over the courts and the legislature. But we are now mired in a war created under false pretenses on the strength of bad intelligence, and the leader who entered office without a majority and won re-election with a bare majority now wants us to believe that he has the powers of a king. This, to be understated, is troublesome.
Since 2001, the administration has argued that it can declare U.S. citizens “enemy combatants” and hold them without charges, access to the courts, or counsel as a condition of national security. The administration has not just argued in favor of torture, in defiance of international law and treaties to which the United States is a signatory, but has campaigned for it. Why? National security, of course.
As a Boston Globe story put it last week, Bush feels he can “waive the restrictions.”
“The executive branch shall construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President . . . as Commander in Chief,” Bush wrote [in his signing statement allowing the wiretaps], adding that this approach “will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President . . . of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.”
Does anybody else wonder if, since we are in a war against “terror”—a war against an abstract noun that only the president can define—this war only ends when one man says it is done? When does he stop being a “wartime president”? When a government refuses to look into right-wing militias but spies on the Catholic League and vegetarians and animal-rights protesters, when it locks up natural-born citizens and claims they are without rights, then do we start to worry?
For years I mocked the people who loaded up their survival shelters and bought and stored armaments as if every next week was Y2K. The NRA has called itself, with a straight face, “the nation’s oldest civil-rights organization.” The NRA claims that James Madison, in The Federalist Papers, argued for the right of the people to arm themselves to overthrow tyranny—in this instance, the U.S. government.
Having read and studied Federalist 46, I’ve come to believe that the Second Amendment, as the courts have held throughout the years, is incumbent on the clause the gun lobby always wishes to forget—the part about the “well-regulated militia.” But now the politicians the gun lobby helped put into power are aiming the awesome might of that government right back at them. Worried about gun registration? Worried about the government taking away your guns? Well, guess what — before they take, they spy.
I’m not saying that I agree with the NRA and that crowd. Not yet. But if people like me start to wonder if they’re right, what should the Bush administration think their friends are thinking?
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