ACLU Urges Senate to Demand Information on Illegal NSA Spying Program, As Federal Court Orders Justice Department to Turn Over Documents

February 16, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to formally request documents from the White House and Department of Justice regarding the warrantless National Security Agency domestic spying program. This follows two resolutions that came before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday that also called for information about the illegal wiretapping program.

“The Senate must demand accountability regarding the executive branch’s warrantless wiretapping of Americans,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The prerogative of the Senate to examine documents about this illegal spying program does not, and should not, hinge on which party controls the White House. A joint bipartisan inquiry will help protect the rights of Americans and restore the Senate to its rightful role in our system of checks and balances. Responsible oversight requires leaders to insist on documents and facts rather than to duck by taking refuge in private assurances and selective information from political appointees.”

The ACLU today also welcomed a federal court order directing the Justice Department to turn over documents on the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program within 20 days, or to provide a list of specific documents it is withholding. U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy’s order comes in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, which the ACLU joined earlier this month

The president and the attorney general have time and again insisted that the warrantless NSA domestic spying program operated within the bounds of the law. However, many members of Congress, numerous legal experts and civil liberties organizations, and even the non-partisan Congressional Research Service have rejected that claim. For the sake of core democratic principles, the ACLU said, no president can be given a blank check when it comes to Americans’ rights.

The ACLU expressed its disappointment with the failure of the two similar House resolutions on Wednesday and encouraged the Senate to exercise more leadership and independence from political pressures for sake of the rule of law. Both resolutions failed in the House Judiciary Committee yesterday on a 21 – 16 vote, with one Republican Congressman, John Hostettler (R-IN), willing to stand up for the principle of checks and balances over party pressure. In recent weeks, the White House has applied increasing pressure on Republicans – in both chambers -not to question the warrantless domestic eavesdropping program in this mid-term election year.

“Our founders insisted on checks on presidential power to protect our nation’s legacy of liberty,” said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. “The Senate Intelligence Committee must transcend party politics and insist on facts, not rhetoric. The American people deserve the truth, not a whitewash by their elected representatives. Our security and liberty are far too important to be sacrificed in order to protect a president that has hidden from Congress and the public his decision that he need not follow the laws that protect the rights of ordinary Americans.”

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the warrantless NSA spying program, go to:

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