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Specter's Op-Ed: Cowardice He Can Live With

July 23, 2006

In a bizarre Washington Post op-ed ("Surveillance We Can Live With") pitching his ill-conceived NSA eavesdropping compromise, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) shows all of the hallmarks of a man in the throes of severe cognitive dissonance. While essentially pronouncing the illegality of George Bush's illegal domestic surveillance program, he cannot bring himself to harm his President or his party.
As we've come to expect, the battle between Specter's inner demons yields only frustration and cowardice. Specter gets off to a rousing start:

"President Bush's electronic surveillance program has been a festering sore on our body politic since it was publicly disclosed last December. Civil libertarians, myself included, have insisted that the program must be subject to judicial review to ensure compliance with the Fourth Amendment...On its face, the program seems contrary to the plain text of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which regulates domestic national security wiretapping."

But Specter quickly goes off the rails, as he backs away from the precipice of presidential confrontation:

"The president argues, however, that his inherent constitutional powers supersede the statute. Without knowing the exact contours of the program, it's impossible to say whether he is right or wrong. But three federal appeals court decisions suggest the president may be right."

Specter not only doesn't specify the three appeals court decisions supposedly backing the President's case, but omits altogether mention of the Supreme Court's Hamdan ruling handed down just last month. As I wrote at the time, the majority's explicit rejection of broad presidential powers claimed by the White House to be inherent in the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) also imperils Bush's dubious arguments for the illegal NSA domestic spying program. The White House has offered a two-pronged defense in claiming that the 2001 AUMF and the wartime Commander-in-Chief powers give President Bush the statutory and constitutional basis for sidestepping the FISA process for the NSA's domestic electronic surveillance. With the AUMF argument in tatters following Hamdan, the Bush administration will have no alternative but to argue that FISA itself is unconstitutional. And that, politically and legally, is a losing proposition for the President.
So Arlen Specter proposes to let President Bush off the hook. After rightly noting that "the president's constitutional power either exists or does not exist, no matter what any statute may say," Specter to proceeds to give the White House a pass - twice. (Specter's first whiff occurred during Committee hearings, in which he refused to perform the full scope of his oversight duties and protect the constitutional prerogatives of Congress.) With his so-called compromise bill, Specter merely asks, not mandates, that President Bush submit his entire program for review and modification to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorized by FISA. There is no oversight of individual cases, no individual challenges to the application of the program, and no penalties for past crimes the FISC may yet deem to have occurred under the President's program.
This excerpt perhaps best captures the spirit and twisted logic of Specter's pusillanimous piece:

"President Bush's record of seeking to expand Article II power has been a hallmark of his administration. The president and vice president have vociferously argued that the administration had the authority for the program without any judicial review. Bush's personal commitment to submit his program to FISC is therefore a major breakthrough."

In the end, a frustrated and conflicted Specter concludes with a feeble cry, "If someone has a better idea for legislation that would resolve the program's legality or can negotiate a better compromise with the president, I will be glad to listen."
Here's an idea. Don't compromise with criminals. Follow the law. Hold the hearings. Subpoena the officials. Do your job.

3 comments on “Specter's Op-Ed: Cowardice He Can Live With”

  1. Call the president under oath, before committee, and ask him if "mission accomplished" means the war is over. Hold him to the statement.
    If he denies the war is 'over' as his photo op said, then grill him over the cuts to armed forces family programs.

  2. Specter: "The president and vice president have vociferously argued that the administration had the authority for the program without any judicial review."
    If the preznit has such authority, then such a review would find such. But Dubya's assiduously avoided any such review. Wonder why....

  3. There is no comprimise to negotiate. Everything is clearly spelled out in the Constitution.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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