ACLU Calls Warrantless NSA Domestic Spying Program Illegal, Says President Ignored Rule of Law; Demands Special Counsel

January 20, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – At a briefing held by House Democrats today, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretap program directed by President Bush as an illegal operation that violates both the letter and spirit of the law. The briefing was held because the Republican House leadership has yet to schedule any public oversight hearings on the unlawful domestic spying program.

“The executive power of our country is not an imperial power,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Ours is a nation founded upon, and guided by, the rule of law. The president has demonstrated a dangerous disregard for our Constitution and our laws with his authorization for this illegal program. His continued approval of this warrantless spying places all of our freedoms at risk.”

Fredrickson appeared before a panel of Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee. Her appearance follows the filing of a lawsuit by the ACLU on January 17 against the NSA on behalf of a group of prominent journalists, nonprofits, terrorism experts and community advocates. The suit argues that the president’s program violates the First and Fourth Amendment and the separation of powers.

The ACLU has also called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to appoint a special counsel to begin an independent investigation of the program, saying that an outside special counsel is needed to hold those who authorized the illegal wiretap program accountable. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU has also filed requests for records about the unlawful program.

The briefing follows an increased push by the White House and the Justice Department to try to justify the program. On Wednesday, the Justice Department issued a 42-page whitepaper asserting a legal basis for the operation. Fredrickson noted that the whitepaper failed to rebut the ACLU’s legal analysis in its call for a special counsel. The Justice Department’s letter also fell far short of rebutting the analyses of the non-partisan Congressional Research Service that concluded that the president overstepped his authority when he approved the program and that he failed to properly brief Congress, as required by law. Numerous legal scholars and academics have drawn similar conclusions.

While Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) is expected to hold an oversight hearing on February 6, no other congressional committee has scheduled similar hearings. The ACLU urged all other relevant committees to conduct extensive and public oversight hearings on the NSA program.

“This briefing comes at an appropriate time, just days after Martin Luther King Day,” Fredrickson added. “Dr. King was perhaps the most famous victim of the out-of-control ‘national security’ surveillance conducted by the government in the ’50s and ’60s. Supposedly to fight communism, the FBI illegally wiretapped, spied on and eventually tried to blackmail one of this nation’s greatest citizens. National security must not be used again as a rationale to violate our founding principles. Congress must act to restore the rule of law.”

The ACLU’s testimony can be read at:

To read more about the ACLU’s concerns with the warrantless NSA spying program, go to:

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