Thursday, January 26, 2006

Alberto Gonzalez: Criminally insane or just another Republican?

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has been out on the hustings arguing that the Authorization to Use Military Force in Afghanistan (AUMF) gave the President authority to spy on Americans. The argument goes like this: The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the military; and signal intelligence, i.e. wiretapping, is a normal concomitant to military force. The argument gets support from a Supreme Court case in which it was held that the power to detain prisoners is included within the powers granted by the AUMF.

Here’s why the argument is so wrong that it can’t possibly be made with a straight face by anyone but the criminally insane or a Republican.

Whatever the AUMF is, it is not a Declaration of War. Only Congress can declare war, and that hasn’t happened since World War II. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that although the President cannot declare war he can recognize a state of war. So, let’s grant the President the benefit of the doubt and say that the facts add up to the United States being at war.

Now open your books to the FISA statute:
§ 1811. Authorization during time of war

Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for a period not to exceed fifteen calendar days following a declaration of war by the Congress.

Get it? Even if Congress had declared war there would be a 15 day limitation on his ability to listen in on Americans’ conversations.

As the old song goes: “How long has this been going on?” A lot longer than 15 days.

“… and tell ‘em Big Mitch sent ya!”

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