Democrats & Liberals Archives

Taking Liberties - Spying On Us

Over the last six years we have become very accustomed to the loss of our Constitutional protections and civil liberties. So there seems little reaction when we find out that both the Pentagon and the CIA are spying inside the United States.

It is somehow comforting to know that the ACLU is putting up a fuss. The U.S. corporate media doesn't seem alarmed.

It is disturbing that Radio New Zealand announces "US govt admits military spying role inside own country." It sounds stark and unexpected. Something doesn't seem to "work" with that statement.

I suppose we are to feel comforted by Cheney saying that the Pentagon program is not illegal. But somehow I think that "Spying program targeting individuals is inappropriate for CIA, Pentagon" rather understates the issue. Don't you?

Then we have the warrantless spying from the NSA which was approved by Bush. Despite complaints and concerns, Bush has refused to stop the programs. Now he graciously will allow the FISA court to monitor the program. That might sound like a conciliatory move, but "allowing" the court oversight of an illegal program hardly addresses the issue. Does it?

In reading news reports and transcripts, it seems that most people are assuming that something has changed, and that Bush will no longer engage in warrantless surveillance. However, that does not seem clear from what I read in the memo Gonzales sent to the committee (page 1, page 2).

Attorney General Gonzales, says that he found "a judge" on the FISA court who agreed to authorize the warrantless surveillance. What about the others?

The FISA Court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act created the court) is now comprised of eleven justices selected by the Chief Justice (Roberts) to serve terms of 7 years (Wikipedia).

So, out of eleven judges, Gonzales found ONE to "authorize" warrantless surveillance not just of "foreign intelligence" agent, but of U.S. citizens. Does that make it legal? Does "letting" the court "monitor" the program mean that one judge? Does monitoring mean they can stop it if it goes over the line? How does this address any of the issues?

I find it difficult to believe that one judge out of eleven can make a decision on a program that violates numerous laws, and with a wave of the magical swizzle stick all problem "disappear."

There is a chilling analysis by Robert Perry of Gonzales response to a question by Arlen Specter regarding habeas corpus protections. Gonzales essentially argued that the Constitution does not guarantee habeas corpus rights - it just bars removing those rights. Perry notes that many rights are defined in the negative in the Constitution - the First Amendment for example. Under the reasoning that Gonzales puts forwards, such "rights" quite simply do not exist unless specifically granted. If those laws do not exist, then neither do the protections. This reasoning actually explains a lot of the conflict with this administration over rights and Constitutional protections.

When one combines such a perspective of the Constitution with the administration's embracing the concept of "Unitary Executive," one has to wonder exactly what their view is on "democracy" and of the "freedoms" we think we have in the United States.

We also have the Pentagon and the CIA collecting data and running "intelligence" programs inside the United States on U.S. citizens - clearly outside the purview of these organizations, and we are told (again) "it's legal" by the administration. Well that must make it so.

Posted by Rowan Wolf at January 19, 2007 1:48 PM
Comment #204018

The FISA Court makes it legal. I thought it was okay before. You all argued for the FISA court. You won. As I suspected, opponents were driven not by love of law, but by hatred of Bush. Move on boys and girls. It is a good idea to monitor terrorist communications. Now we have the FISA court approval, you got no complaint coming.

Posted by: Jack at January 19, 2007 4:33 PM
Comment #204019

Sure we do, Jack. Those of us who know the U.S. Constitution was written to protect us from our own government have more than ever, not only to complain about, but, to act on.

Write your representatives, and tell them to reverse this course or, Voting Out Incumbents in order to restore our Democracy will make ‘08 look like a straw poll.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 19, 2007 4:38 PM
Comment #204023

So David

You do not like the law. The Dems are in power. I suppose they could change the law. They might call it “The Terrorist Relief Act of 2007”

Posted by: Jack at January 19, 2007 4:50 PM
Comment #204031

It’s never in the government’s interest to give back power. That is why many constitutional scholars are trying like mad to keep these goofy interpretations from ever becoming seen as legitimate in the first place. The idea of the unitary executive and the negative interpretation of clearly positive rights should not be legitimized and comprimised with. It doesn’t even belong in deep right field. Maybe in the parking lot, but only if it behaves.

Legislating yourself into a showdown with a conservative court is not in the democrats’ interests, or the nation’s, at the moment. I like that they are pushing things like lobby reform. They may end up being token laws, but people should pay more attention to the debate. But all in all, they have a better chance to force the republicans to come back to the middle if they pick their spots and keep the bills and hearings going. It seems counter-productive, but it is how the system works. Innevitably, it will be up to republicans to do the same thing when the dems start getting out of control.

And even though the FISA court oversight is a victory for dems, I think it is smart to make sure that actually means something. There can’t be a judge handing out warrants on an open ended basis. That would defeat the whole purpose.

A good op article:

Posted by: kevin23 at January 19, 2007 5:27 PM
Comment #204032

I have a question about the very first line in this article.

Over the last six years we have become very accustomed to the loss of our Constitutional protections and civil liberties.

Is this statement true? Have we grown accustomed to any such thing?

How many days in prison have posters on this website been sentenced to for their attacks on George Bush? How many times have your computers been seized? How often are you woke up in the middle of the night by the secret police anyway?

Honestly, I’ve spoken with many individuals who say that they have lost their liberties who, when pressed, cannot name a single liberty they have lost. There is in effect NOTHING that has changed in their lives but a constant refrain filling the airwaves that says “OH MY GOD!! WE ARE LOSING OUR LIBERTIES!!”

I think we’re looking at paranoia here—severe paranoia which equates ANY security measures at all with a totalitarian state—and a tendency for many to just mindlessly repeat something thats squares with their distaste for their political opponent, Bush.

Correct me if I’m wrong. Don’t tell me what you’ve heard on the news or read on a website. What has effected YOU?

I don’t expect to see any but the most nonsensical responses to my challenge.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at January 19, 2007 5:31 PM
Comment #204033

Loyal Opposition, when the government takes rights away from one citizen, it takes rights away from ALL citizens who wish to live free in conformity to the U.S. Constitution.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 19, 2007 5:38 PM
Comment #204035

Jack, quite right, the Dem’s are in power, IN the Congress. Just to bring you up to date, there is a Republican in the White House.

And yes, I and millions of others will be holding Democrat’s feet to the fire to address this Authoritarian in the people’s White House.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 19, 2007 5:40 PM
Comment #204040

I would like to know what liberties you liberals lost, because I haven’t lost any. You all got control of the House and Senate now. Do something with it and quit your crying.

Posted by: KAP at January 19, 2007 6:03 PM
Comment #204041

Rowan, great article.
A single judge is not enough oversight for what they are doing. All of the FISA judges should be involved — after all, they are a SECRET COURT.

“The Dems are in power. I suppose they could change the law.”

Good idea. It obviously needs changing.

PS. Kevin23, great to see you posting here again!

Posted by: Adrienne at January 19, 2007 6:03 PM
Comment #204042
Loyal Opposition, when the government takes rights away from one citizen, it takes rights away from ALL citizens who wish to live free in conformity to the U.S. Constitution.

David, Rowan casually asserts that we’re all accustomed to losing our civil liberties. As I suspected, you cannot name a single liberty you have lost and can only make a vague general statement that somewhere some American is probably losing his civil liberties.

Now, that’s probably true, as it’s always been true, but it’s not because of George Bush.

The biggest violations of our civil liberties in the last 6 years have been Kelo (which allows the government to confiscate our property) and McCain-Feingold, which cancels the First Amendment and puts the government in the position of rationing free speech.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at January 19, 2007 6:13 PM
Comment #204045

Adrienne, thank you so much for everything. You definately know the meaning of community. =)

Posted by: kevin23 at January 19, 2007 6:23 PM
Comment #204087

Kevin23 wrote:
“Legislating yourself into a showdown with a conservative court is not in the democrats’ interests, or the nation’s, at the moment.”

So, you don’t think the Dems should even try to make sure that the entire FISA court will be privy to what the administration is doing regarding domestic spying? Care to elaborate?

“Adrienne, thank you so much for everything. You definately know the meaning of community. =)”

:^) You’re welcome, Kevin. Totally burned my entire bridge with the manager over it, but if anything I said made a difference somehow, I’m still glad for it.

Posted by: Adrienne at January 19, 2007 10:14 PM
Comment #204098

Nothing you said Adrienne, made any difference. But this is not the appropriate forum for this discussion, Kevin and Adrienne, take it to private email as our Rules of Participation indicate.

Posted by: Watchblog Managing Editor at January 19, 2007 11:07 PM
Comment #204106

Point of clarification … I meant “Over the last six years we have become very accustomed to the loss of our Constitutional protections and civil liberties.” sarcastically. I’ve been told that sometimes folks don’t realize when I am being sarcastic.

Secondly, what liberties and rights have I lost? The same ones that we all have lost. The right to habeas corpus. The right to have a warrant presented when the government collects information on me. The right to a trial by jury, or a right to challenge my confinement should the I arrested for some of the now numerous forms of terrorism or supporting terrorism - impeding a animal business for example is one of the newest ones. The right to have my purchases and business interactions and activities be private - what books I check out of the library or by at the bookstore, what courses I am taking at college, my banking transactions…

The above list is only partial. Has any of this happened to me? Well I haven’t ended up in jail, but I have no idea whether data has been collected on me. I suspect it has because I believe that there are now “intelligence” files on virtually everyone in the US. The issue is not whether I personally have been “swept up,” but that the threat is there. Step over an invisible line; have too many “flags” pop up, and any of us could be very aware that those protections we thought we have are significantly weakened or gone.

People are aware that we are being watched, or that the possibility is there. Federal agents and local police have been at every anti-war march I have been at - taking pictures and videos. I doubt they are for a scrapbook. I know that people do not speak out, or go to certain events, because they are concerned about how it will be interpreted.

The squashing of free discussion, inquiry, and peaceable assembly should not be a concern in this country. There is something very wrong, and something very important lost, when you have Americans looking over their shoulders wondering if their government is watching them.

These changes do impact me personally - they impact all of us personally. More importantly, they negatively affect us as a people and a nation.

How bizarre can it get? I teach at a community college. Another teacher said something in a class that a student thought was critical of President Bush (it was a philosophy class and the example was regarding forms of logic and used a quotation from the president). The student went home an complained enough that her mother called the FBI. The next day agents from Washington,DC were in the college president’s office with the teacher. Nothing came of it, but the threat was clear. BTW - the example was a logic example - no threat against the president was made.

Do you think that did event did not effect every faculty member and staff of the college? Do you think that event did not effect every student who knew about it?

I have always had problems with the “If you don’t have anything to hide, then why do you care if … the police break down your door, you are stopped by the police for no reason, if your phone is tapped or your correspondence read…” I care, because the Constitution is there to protect from the abuses of government. I care because the right to our privacy is essential to liberty. I care because the right of free speech and assembly is inextricably intertwined with democracy. Without these things, we are not a free and democratic society.

Posted by: Rowan Wolf at January 20, 2007 12:29 AM
Comment #204112

Re: Habeas Corpus
Have you seen this video yet?:
Watch Gonzales try to explain to us how we never really had this right at all. Note how both Specter and Leahy glance at each other in shocked surprise, and then forcefully react to this complete and utter garbage.

PS to Kevin, guess you don’t need to thank me.

Posted by: Adrienne at January 20, 2007 1:37 AM
Comment #204113


“So, you don’t think the Dems should even try to make sure that the entire FISA court will be privy to what the administration is doing regarding domestic spying? Care to elaborate?”

Certainly. I don’t really care what internal rules of procedure they impose on the FISA court so long as the court can perform its function effectively and fairness is a key concern. I think when there is any open-ended promise to provide the government with whatever it requests, the purpose of the court is defeated.

But there are many looming constitutional questions (most notably the showdown over the limits of the War Powers Act and the warrant-less wiretapping program), and this congress is going to have to decide how to handle these conflicts. Will they attack them head on via provocative legislation and create the need for the supreme court to become involved? Or will they use the power of the purse and other available means to do their bidding? Personally, I see benefit in not having a showdown over the crazy Bush theories and doctrines, but instead hoping they simply fade into history as an obscure and illegitimate attempt to hijack the constitution. The beauty of this second approach is that the arguments against Bush are made by scholars and historical commentators rather than by constitutional lawyers in Roberts’ realm.

The reality is that Bush has already started to change his tone towards dems from smug to complacent…looking almost like a different president (although, granted, with eerily similar tendencies). So to use a poker analogy, I don’t see a need to throw in all the chips on a mediocre hand when you are winning.

Posted by: Kevin23 at January 20, 2007 1:54 AM
Comment #204137

Rowan, as I suspected, this loss of civil liberties is just “a feeling” you have that can’t be backed up with a single example. You are either sadly misinformed or just repeating left-wing propaganda—propagaganda that it’s never occured to you seriously think about because it fits so nicely with your political hostility towards the administration.

As an American citizen, you have NOT lost any right of habeas corpus. In fact, the recent Hamdan case strengthened it. Further, unless you are a foreign enemy combatant the Military Commissions Act has nothing to do with you at all. To paraphrase those song lyrics: “You’re so vain, I bet you think this Act is about you.”

You have no right whatsover for the government to present a warrant to you every time they collect information on you. None. Does the IRS present you with a warrant to see your W-2s? Does a traffic cop present you with a warrant when he points his radar gun at you? You have a right to not have your property searched and then used as evidence against you IN A TRIAL without a warrant, but as you said—you haven’t stood trial, have you? So where have your rights been violated?

The other things you mention are equally baseless. For there to be police officers watching demonstrations is normal. Even an innocent Fourth of July parade is surrounded by cops.

And considering how so many left-wing demonstrations in the last few years have turned into window-smashing, car-burning orgies of violence, there damn well out to be cops watching them.

I think of the boy who called wolf. Some day, a real tyrant—of the right or the left—may come along in this country and try to strip away our civil liberties and nobobdy is going to take seriously those who try to raise the alarm because the left has been whining baselessly for so long about the loss of civil liberties just to score poltical points and feed their own sense of self-importance.

That this is all politics is obvious because the left has nothing to say at all about the real and severe violations of our civil rights that are going on.

In fact, they often cheerlead for them—issues like hate crime legislation, speech codes, Kelo and other forms of eminent domain, confiscatory and punatitive taxes, violations of the right to bear arms, McCain-Feingolds’s rollback of the First Amendment.

The right has a strong taste for limiting our freedoms too—I’m certainly not defending the Republicans here.

I’ve been fed up with George Bush for over four years now, but when it comes to violations of our civil liberties and a desire to put government’s nose into all our business, he’s a piker in comparison to the political left wing.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at January 20, 2007 10:52 AM
Comment #204255

Loyal Opposition said: “Rowan, as I suspected, this loss of civil liberties is just ‘a feeling’ you have that can’t be backed up with a single example.”

But, you see, LO, that is the sinister beauty of what were Bush’s policies. When you can arrest and detain an American citizen without counsel, without phone calls, and hold them indefinitely under the auspices of executive decision that they are a threat to national security, there really isn’t any evidence, is there? There is only a missing persons report, and America has like, a million of those.

Why were the Germans so unaware of the Nazi’s tactics? Because of secrecy and no habeas corpus. People can just disappear without leaving any evidence of the Executive Decision to make them disappear.

Bush’s policies are our founding father’s worst nightmare, and what they sought to prevent with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 21, 2007 12:48 AM
Comment #204271

People have lost liberties. I am one and not just one, one of many thousands of American citizens.
It starts with your right to privacy, but you don’t actually know they are looking into your bank records, phone records, internet searches. So you go on with your happy life, until you try to board a plane.
Then, you nay-sayers will understand the hell many, many Americans live with. I am a blonde haired, blue eyed, tax paying American citizen.

I think Ben Franklin said it best, ” They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Posted by: Ziem at January 21, 2007 7:44 AM
Comment #204430

I love the playground form of argument: “Sure, they locked up all the Jews, but you’re not a Jew, so what liberty have you lost?” Yes, LO, a very compelling argument that if we haven’t been locked up, we haven’t lost our liberties. Of course, if a former poster had been locked up, they wouldn’t be able to respond to your query, and neither would their friends, because GWB and friends have asserted their right to not only lock up American citizens without habeas corpus, but also keep that information secret. So you’re little ploy is pretty meaningless.

In grown-up land, if a right is denied, it does affect everyone, since they can no longer rely on it to conduct themselves as a free citizen. They have be careful not to piss off the powers that be. Wasn’t this the problem in Iraq, not that Saddam killed or locked up everyone, but that he did it to some and everyone else had to be very careful. I’m sure no one would argue that those others hadn’t lost any rights due to Saddam’s usurpation of power.

Posted by: Mental Wimp at January 22, 2007 4:28 PM
Comment #204475

Well gw,
Two incidents come immediately to mind. One was Brandon Mayfield. He is a lawyer here in Portland where I live. Another is the covert spying on the Quakers peace meetings by the NSA and the military.

There are other examples, but even if there were no examples, the threat is clearly there.

(Thank you Mental Wimp)

Posted by: Rowan Wolf at January 22, 2007 8:47 PM
Comment #204603

Once the writ of habeous corpus is removed from law, then the government has nothing to fear from its people. And the only thing that prevents a government from becoming a dictatorship is when those in power have more to fear form the people than the people have to fear from the government.

As for LO’s and gw’s argument, I think Rummy said it best “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” You guys took us to war on less evidence than this.

Posted by: Dave1-20-2009 at January 23, 2007 1:16 PM
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