Thursday, January 05, 2006

How far is too far?

Matt Welch asks some questions that I believe deserve to be answered. How far are defenders of the Bush administration's grab at expanded executive power willing to go?

And Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory (a legal blog I've recently discovered) has a question he'd like answered, as well.

Since the secret FISA court has always rubber-stamped virtually every warrant request, what possible legitimate reason could exist for bypassing it? That question has been largely forgotten, but it still has never been answered, by anyone.
Adding to the discussion, Nat Hentoff answers Ann Coulter's charge that the New York Times is guilty of treason for revealing the NSA's secret warrantless wiretaps by quoting Federal Circuit Court Judge Damon Keith, "democracy dies behind closed doors."

And I have an answer for Ann, too. She writes:

After all the ballyhoo about how it was duck soup to get a warrant from FISA, I thought it was pretty big news when it later turned out that the FISA court had been denying warrant requests from the Bush administration like never before. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the FISA court "modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than from the four previous presidential administrations combined."

In the 20 years preceding the attack of 9/11, the FISA court did not modify -- much less reject -- one single warrant request. But starting in 2001, the judges "modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for court-ordered surveillance by the Bush administration." In the years 2003 and 2004, the court issued 173 "substantive modifications" to warrant requests and rejected or "deferred" six warrant requests outright.

What would a Democrat president have done at that point? Apparently, the answer is: Sit back and wait for the next terrorist attack.

A possibility that Ann is either unwilling or incapable of entertaining is that the reason the Bush administration was the first administration to ever have a warrant rejected (and for the sake of argument I'm assuming Ann's facts are correct) might be because it was the first administration to attempt to misuse the wiretaps in a manner that was egregious enough to lead to the court's rejection. Unless Coulter can somehow show that the FISA court for some inexplicable reason seeks to undermine national security this would seem the most parsimonious (and reasonable) answer.


Stephen McArthur said...

Perhaps the recent news that Christiane Amanpour might have been wiretapped might answer that question. I doubt that FISA would have authorized a wiretap on her, which would have also included her husband Jamie Rubin, former Clinton, Clark, and Kerry advisor.

As this story develops, we'll see just why Bush avoided FISA. John Dean has already said this administration makes Nixon's look like a bunch of amateurs.

gawker said...

I think Ms Coulter's basic problem is that she starts out each of her treatises with the preassumption that whatever Bush does is absolutely unimpeachably correct. For example, she is assuming that all the warrants that were rejected were justified. Then, based on that, she goes around proving that everyone else is wrong. So that makes the rejections of those warrants wrong. Finally, after going around in a full circle, she arrives at the conclusion that since whatever everybody else did was wrong, what Bush did next was correct. That justifies Bush's rejection of the warrants.

Hume's Ghost said...

Simply put, Coulter fits facts to match her beliefs, rather than vice versa. This is why she is able to convince herself that Joe McCarthy was a hero.