Thursday, January 19, 2006

Christopher Hitchens Joins ACLU Suit vs. NSA Spying

Statement - Christopher Hitchens, NSA Lawsuit Client

Although I am named in this suit on my own behalf, I am motivated to join it by concerns well beyond my own. I have been frankly appalled by the discrepant and contradictory positions taken by the Administration in this matter. First, the entire existence of the NSA's monitoring was a secret, and its very disclosure denounced as a threat to national security.
Then it was argued that Congress had already implicitly granted the power to conduct warrantless surveillance on the territory of the United States, which seemed to make the reason for the original secrecy more rather than less mysterious. (I think we may take it for granted that our deadly enemies understand that their communications may be intercepted.)

This makes it critically important that we establish an understood line, and test the cases in which it may or may not be crossed.

Let me give a very direct instance of what I mean. We have recently learned that the NSA used law enforcement agencies to track members of a pacifist organisation in Baltimore. This is, first of all, an appalling abuse of state power and an unjustified invasion of privacy, uncovered by any definition of "national security" however expansive. It is, no less importantly, a stupid diversion of scarce resources from the real target. It is a certainty that if all the facts were known we would become aware of many more such cases of misconduct and waste.

We are, in essence, being asked to trust the state to know best. What reason do we have for such confidence? The agencies entrusted with our protection have repeatedly been shown, before and after the fall of 2001, to be conspicuous for their incompetence and venality. No serious reform of these institutions has been undertaken or even proposed: Mr George Tenet (whose underlings have generated leaks designed to sabotage the Administration's own policy of regime-change in Iraq, and whose immense and unconstitutionally secret budget could not finance the infiltration of a group which John Walker Lindh could join with ease) was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I believe the President when he says that this will be a very long war, and insofar as a mere civilian may say so, I consider myself enlisted in it. But this consideration in itself makes it imperative that we not take panic or emergency measures in the short term, and then permit them to become institutionalised. I need hardly add that wire-tapping is only one of the many areas in which this holds true.

The better the ostensible justification for an infringement upon domestic liberty, the more suspicious one ought to be of it. We are hardly likely to be told that the government would feel less encumbered if it could dispense with the Bill of Rights. But a power or a right, once relinquished to one administration for one reason, will unfailingly be exploited by successor administrations, for quite other reasons. It is therefore of the first importance that we demarcate, clearly and immediately, the areas in which our government may or may not treat us as potential enemies.

This was published as a blog on The Huffington Post and in the ACLU Online Newspaper.


Mike Ballard said...

Bush has not upheld the Constitution he swore to protect and defend and could be impeached for it. He not only authorized spying without court sanction, a violation of the 4th Amendment, he also lied to Congress and the people about WMD to get the US into a war of aggression--illegal under the UN Charter which the US is a party to.

If Bush is impeached, we get Cheney, but he is in many ways even more of a criminal. The President Pro-tem of the Senate is another criminal and so on down the line of succession.

Bottomline is that the Republicans would have to indict themselves and throw themselves out of office and into prison to get crimes like the NSA spying off the table. I just can't see them doing that.

Now, if it were a Democratic President who was having his cock sucked by a young, willing White House intern, it would be a different matter.

Craig Bardo said...

If what the administration did is to track numbers of known al Qaeda operatives to numbers in the U.S. and the FISA court was hassling him out of some puffed up sense of self-importance or political agenda, then he merely followed the suggestion of the 911 commission and did the right thing. There is apparently review of the material in the Justice Department. If we find out that he did otherwise and was operating other than did the administrations before him who authorized warrantless searches, then it deserves further scrutiny.

Those that reflexively object, because they simply don't like Bush's politics, don't know enough to make an informed judgement.

sonia said...

This is a complicated matter. You might want to read this post before deciding that Bush should be impeached for wiretapping. And remember, if there were another terrorist attack like 9-11 recently, the same people who want to indict Bush for wiretaps would be demanding his indictment for failing to prevent terrorism. Maybe wiretaps helped prevent another 9-11. We will never know.

Having said that, I completely agree with Hitchens that no administration, Dem or Rep, should be blindly trusted not to abuse their powers. But people who should be indicted are the FISA court judges if it is true that they were deliberately preventing anti-terrorism units from doing their job. The burden of proof is on the Bush administration to prove that FISA judges were obstructing justice. If they weren't, then Bush had no excuse for going above their heads and should be denounced...

Frank Partisan said...

Charles Colson said, "Bush is the first president to ever admit to an impeachable offense in history."

It is documented, that when FISA turned down the administration, it was for the flimsy cases that were presented. That was rare. Why flaunt the law? Because they want to. Cheney has always believed in an imperial president. The torture issue, is the prototype, for what Bush and Cheney, care about any law.

CB is aware, that opposition to illegal wiretaps, is not only a lefty issue. Groups like, Americans for Tax Reform, Free Congress Foundation, Gun Owners of America, Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, etc.

Hitchens notes fighting terror is a long struggle. Why take away liberties short term?

My friend was one of my state's foremost thieves, in the state's history. He never would say a word like watches over the phone. He would call them gimmicks instead.

When Hitchens starts to post on Huffington, you might wonder if he sees the writing on the wall.

I don't agree with liberals, who criticize both lack of security measures, and government excesses, as Michael Moore. The point is how do you want to live?

Fahd Mirza said...

Again another very informative post for me.

Brian said...

Hitch has lost a bit of credibility with me because of his fawning over the Bush administration's aggression in Iraq... not merely endorsing the aggression and criticizing some of the intellectually weaker arguments of some of the anti-war people but actively endorsing most of the tactics used by the administration. Refusing to see that aligning oneself with one group of religious extremists to fight another is not a prudent move. It's too bad since I've always held him in high regard (my blog's name is a tribute to a book of his). I suppose this is a step in the right direction.

sonia said...

I think you are putting a cart in front of the horse here. Hitchens was always a STRONGER advocate of the Iraq War than the Bush himself! It was Bush who listened to Hitchens and adopted his point of view on Iraq, not vice versa. I find it exasperating how you choose to criticize Bush, a lousy president in EVERYTHING EXCEPT THE IRAQ WAR, on the only point where his actions are actually correct. Bush is wrong on gays, on deficit, on religion, on immigration, on trade, on corruption, in fact on every political issue imaginable. He is only right on Iraq, and surprise surprise, that's exactly where he is being criticized the most by dumb pacifist idiots...

Frank Partisan said...

Iraq is a unique situation in history.

Bush and Company, and the liberal Democrats, both were dishonest leading to the war. People were expected for example, to believe, that a vote to allow Bush military options, wasn't a vote for the war. On the other side mushroom cloud images were used to justify invasion. Clinton acted unilaterally in military matters several times, without liberal opposition. Unilateral action is not a serious debate. The dishonesty on both sides, is the root, of the antiwar opposition. It is hard to believe truth, if you're continually misled.

The war was not for oil. If it was it was unecessary. All US had to do, was make a deal with Saddam.

The left in Iraq, supported the invasion, and wanted US left support. What if the Western left supported the invasion, and fought for its agenda as support for workers rights, secular state, women's rights etc. I think Hitch tried to bring a left agenda, to the overthrow of Saddam.

I don't believe pacifism is part of the discussion here.

I understand why Hitch supported the invasion. I think he should of stayed the hell out of endorsing candidates in 2004. I stayed home election day. Hitch knows both parties are two sides of the same coin. We both had our political education with Trotskyists.

Hitch who knows history well, I wonder what he thought, when Bremer disbanded the Baath army? Bremer didn't know the military ethic. The army is always the first to capitulate. Soldiers move from fighting, to directing traffic. Its a Band of Brothers thing. The soldier to soldier ring was broken. Bremer also opposed direct elections. Only after Shiite pressure, did US acquiesce. The Coalition Authority tried to implement the Bush program of lower taxes and privatization.

If US withdraws, there will be immediatly a civil war. US can prevent a civil war by staying 25 more years.

Al-Sadr promised if Iran is invaded, he'll send troops. Iran is negotiating, building electrical grids for Iraq. There is going to be withdrawal of a large number of US troops before the 2006 elections. there is talk of claiming victory, then getting out. Frankly the US doesn't know who to trust in Iraq.

As you can tell by the people who come to this blog, I believe the left should fight against Mugabe, Mubarek, Iranian mullahs etc. I don't want to hand over, their struggle to the right.

Pete said...

I think its significant to note that the FBI has conducted wiretaps (with warrants) on Americans for many years. It still does.

Its possible that the FBI refused to undertake warrantless wiretaps so the NSA was ordered by Rumsfeld to carry out the (illegal) warrantless wiretapping.

People also need to know that the NSA often carries out wiretapping acting on requests from customer agencies such as the CIA, Treasury, CIFA but also the FBI. If these agencies had knowledge of this warrantless process they are also culpable.

So this matter is complex - not just the NSA with Bush ultimately responsible.

The blanks need to be filled in.

sonia said...

Very good comments, Ren

I wish more leftists were as lucid as you...

But, I think pacifism is part of the discussion. Many (too many) Americans (both right and left-wing) are opposed to Iraq War simply because they don't want Westerners killed to liberate an Arab country. Their motives are pacifistic and racist at the same time.

Bremer made many mistakes, but the Americans wisely followed Sistani's advice and allowed elections. Yes, the future Iraqi governments will be moderately pro-Iranian, but that's not such a bad thing. There is an enormous difference between Saddam-style totalitarianism and Iran-style partly-democratic religious theocracy. Like living in Pyonyang in 2006 and Rome in 1850.

If US withdraws, there will be immediatly a civil war. US can prevent a civil war by staying 25 more years.

Not quite. If US withraws like from South Vietnam (i.e. cutting off all aid), then yes, there will be civil war. But if they continue to support Bagdad militarily (US weapons, Iraqi soldiers), the insurgency will end.

the US doesn't know who to trust in Iraq.

They can trust the Kurds and all Shiites except Al-Sadr. That's 75% of the country right there...

And the Americans have to learn how to compromise as well. A democratic and moderately Islamist government in Bagdad is the best they can ever hope for.

Pete said...


I differ.

"But if they continue to support Bagdad militarily (US weapons, Iraqi soldiers), the insurgency will end."

The insurgency may end when the Shiite dominated military have slaughtered the Sunni's or driven them into an enclave.

"They can trust the Kurds"

The Kurds can be trusted to fight the future Shiite run government to create a Kurdish country.

That has been the Kurds long term goal.

The artificial country of Iraq, created by the West in the 1920s, will unravel (through civil war) along ethnic lines.

I think in view of the problem with Iran the US inclination will be to sponsor a secular authoritarian regime rather than risk a "moderately Islamist" country becoming radically Islamist.

Theres just too much oil at risk. This is not a moral approach of course - its just the diection things will go over the next 2 years - I think.


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