This is not an easy letter to write, and I'm afraid it may be a hard one to believe.
By now you have probably heard the news that George Bush is using the National Security Agency to conduct surveillance on American citizens without the consent of any court. After initially refusing to confirm the story, the President has admitted to personally overseeing this domestic spying program for years and he says he intends to continue the program.
These actions explicitly violate a law designed to protect US citizens. But the administration says that other laws somehow allow for this unprecedented use of a foreign intelligence agency to spy on Americans right here in the United States. According to reports, political appointees in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel wrote still-classified legal opinions laying out the supposed justification for this program.
I have asked our General Counsel to draft a Freedom of Information Act request for the relevant legal opinions and memos written by that office. Since the program's existence is no longer a secret, these memos should be released -- Americans deserve to know exactly what authority this administration believes it has.
You can help pressure the administration to release these documents by signing on to our Freedom of Information Act request in the next 48 hours:
This extra-legal activity is even more disturbing because it is unnecessary -- the administration already has access to a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That court was created precisely to provide speedy, secure judicial review to the actions of our intelligence agencies.
To allow authorities act as quickly as possible, officials can even apply for a retroactive warrant days after the surveillance has already begun. Secret warrants have been approved over 19,000 times -- only five applications were rejected in nearly thirty years. The court, which regularly acts within hours, is hardly a roadblock, but it prevents abuse by providing the oversight required by our system of checks and balances.
This administration must demonstrate clearly what legal authority allows it to disregard criminal prohibitions on unilateral domestic spying. Sign on to the request now -- it will be delivered on Thursday:
In an interview on Monday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez admitted that the administration asked certain Members of Congress about getting a new law to allow spying on Americans without a warrant. Realizing that even a Republican-controlled Congress wouldn't authorize such a measure, they decided to manipulate current law and proceed with the program anyway.
Manipulation of a law like this is dangerous. The same Office of Legal Counsel used vague assertions of sweeping authority in the infamous torture memos. The victim of this reasoning is the rule of law itself -- when this administration asserts sweeping authority to step over any line of legality, it asserts that there are no lines at all.
Does this administration believe there are any lines it can't cross? Americans deserve to know. Join our Freedom of Information Act request now:
Some Republicans will try to pretend that this is just another political fight. But Americans of every political viewpoint are rightfully disturbed by this extra-legal activity. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, shocked by the report of this activity, promised to convene hearings in January.
Even Bob Barr, who was one of the most conservative members of Congress and the first member to file articles of impeachment against President Clinton, said:
"What's wrong with it is several-fold. One, it's bad policy for our government to be spying on American citizens through the National Security Agency. Secondly, it's bad to be spying on Americans without court oversight. And thirdly, it's bad to be spying on Americans apparently in violation of federal laws against doing it without court order."
We need to know whether George Bush went beyond the limits of the law -- and whether he and his administration believe that there are any limits at all. Please join this important request:
Even after the press found out about these actions, the administration tried to cover up its existence. According to Newsweek, George Bush summoned the publisher and executive editor of the New York Times to the Oval Office to try to stop them from running the story of these illegal activities.
We have seen this kind of arrogance of power before.
Richard Nixon once said in an interview that, "if the president does it, it can't be illegal."
He found out that wasn't true. This administration may need a reminder.
Governor Howard Dean, M.D"-from his email today.
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