Friday, May 19, 2006

Senator Pat Roberts: cowardly apologist for law breaking

Let's take a look at Sen. Pat Roberts' (R-Kan) opening statement yesterday at the confirmation hearing for Gen. Hayden's appointment to head the CIA.

The National Security Agency's Terrorist Surveillance Program became public last December as the result of a grave breach of national security. A leak allowed our enemy to know that the President had authorized the NSA to intercept the international communications of people reasonably believed to be linked to al Qaeda people who have and are trying to kill Americans.
Yes, that grave breach. Al Qaeda now knows that the United States intelligence agencies seek to intercept international communications of agents of al Qaeda, because, obviously, before the New York Times broke this story, al Qaeda would have never suspected that the National Surveillance Agency would attempt to gather intelligence on them.

Also, note Senator Roberts narrowing the issue - this is lying by the sin of ommission. The leak did not reveal "that that the President had authorized the NSA to intercept the international communications of people reasonably believed to be linked to al Qaeda." No, the leak revealed that the President authorized the NSA to engage in warrantless surveillance of US citizens. That is the "grave breach" that Sen. Roberts refers to, but won't acknowledge since it gets in the way of his fear-mongering and because he is unable to mount a substantial defense for presidential law breaking.

At that time, largely uninformed critics rushed to judgment decrying the program as illegal and unconstitutional.
The administration has admitted that it is violating FISA. That IS illegal. The administration is acting in defiance of a statute regulating electronic surveillance signed into law in 1978, by reason that the President has the authority to unilaterally void laws when he sees fit to do so. That IS unconstitutional.

Also, note the defense Roberts uses, that there is secret evidence that we are "uninformed" about that would justify this program. My, what a convenient defense. One is reminded of Abraham Lincoln's letter to a friend who believed that the president should be able to go to war without approval of Congress. Lincoln answered:

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him,--"I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

That is what Sen. Roberts is saying, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't." Senator Roberts' argument would justify any and all presidential law breaking, always to be defended on the grounds of some secret invisible threat that Senator Roberts sees, if we don't.

Back to Sen. Roberts

In the interim, cooler heads have prevailed and there is now a consensus that we not only should be listening to al Qaeda communications, but we must be listening to them.
Is this man capable of honest discourse? This is asinine to the point that it is insulting that the Senator believes anyone will not see through this pathetic rhetoric. There is and always has been a consensus that we should and must be listening to al Qaeda. What there is not a consensus on, however, is that the President should and must authorize the NSA to spy on US citizens without a warrant in defiance of a law that was passed in 1978 to prohibit warrantless surveillance of US citizen. The Senator has yet to address what is at the heart of the matter.

Last week, in the wake of another story, those same critics reprised their winter performance again making denouncements and condemnations on subjects about which they know little to nothing.
"Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

The result of this conundrum is that we quite often get accused of not doing our job. Such accusations, by their very nature, are uninformed and, therefore, inaccurate. Unfortunately, I have found that ignorance is no impediment for some critics. I fully understand the desire to know, but I also appreciate the absolute necessity of keeping some things secret in the interest of national security.
"Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

This business of continued leaks, making it possible for terrorists to understand classified information about how we are preventing their attacks, is endangering our country and intelligence sources, methods and lives. I believe the great majority of American people understand this. They get it.
Roberts is almost done with his statement and he has yet to address what the actual issue is, but is still engaging in fear-mongering. Could the Senator please explain in what way leaks that reveal illegal conduct on the part of our President and his administration help the terrorists? In what way does al Qaeda knowing that the President authorized the NSA to violate FISA help them? Is national security to be defined as the political interests of the President? Someone might remind the Senator that this is still a constitutional republic.

Al-Qaeda is at war with the United States. Terrorists are planning attacks as we speak. Through very effective and highly classified intelligence efforts, we have stopped attacks. The fact that we have not had another tragedy like 9-11 is no accident.
"Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

But today in Congress and throughout Washington, leaks and misinformation are endangering our efforts. Bin Laden, Zarqawi and their followers must be rejoicing.

We cannot get to the point where we are unilaterally disarming ourselves in the war against terror. If we do, it will be Game Set Match al Qaeda.

Remember Khobar Towers, Beirut, the USS Cole, the Embassy attacks, the two attacks on the World Trade Center and 9-11 and more to come if our efforts are compromised.
More fear-mongering. Not allowing the President to break laws = "unilaterally disarming." Let the President break laws when he sees fit to do so, or you'll get killed by a terrorist. Civil liberties and the rule of law are burdens that we can no longer afford, says Roberts. (Nice allusion to the Cold War and detente, by the way. Helps to agitate the base. Eh, Sen. Roberts?)*

I am a strong supporter of civil liberties. But, you have no civil liberties if you are dead.
Translation: I am not a strong supporter of civil liberties, and I am willing to give up civil liberties if I might have to put my life on the line to defend them. You should do so too; the President will protect you, but he needs for you to give up civil liberties, and he needs to be free to act unaccountably.

One can imagine Senator Roberts, standing before the Continental Congress on the eve of the Revolutionary War, telling the members that "I am a strong supporter of civil liberties. But, you have no civil liberties if you are dead." Or perhaps one could envision Senator Roberts in Vichy France, assuring the French people that, "I am a strong supporter of civil liberties. But, you have no civil liberties if you are dead," as the Nazis seized control of the government.

Senator Roberts is a coward who would have us give up the core of what this nation stands for because he does not have the spine or character to defend liberty and democracy. Nevermind him presenting us with the false dichotomy of giving up civil liberties or dying at the hands of al Qaeda.

The rest of the Senator's statement consists of him saying that the program must remain secret, but that oversight is being conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee and that we should take his word that they are doing their jobs. This is a joke, unless, by doing his job, Sen. Roberts means acting as a vassal of the President.

At every turn, Senator Roberts stands in the way of the public gaining knowledge of the conduct of this administration. Every time there needs to be an investigation or an inquiry, Sen. Roberts trots out the same tired response: National security will be hurt, but I have secret information, that I can't share with you, that explains everything. Take my word for it and be silent: I see it, if you don't.

No, Senator Roberts, we will not take your word for it. You and your leige, the President, are public servants. You are accountable to us, not vice versa. If you were doing your job you would be presiding over an inquiry over the extent to which that our civil liberties may have been violated instead of attempting to scare us into forgetting the Constitution while asking us to defer to the President's fiat.

*During the '70s, hard-line Republicans and neoconservative Democrats argued that the policy of detente and bilateral treaties to bilaterally reduce nuclear weapons constituted "unilateral disarmament" on the part of the US, and as a result, the US had fallen behind the Soviet Union and opened up a "window of vulnerability." However, US intelligence estimates believed (correctly) that the Soviet Union was in actuality trailing behind the US in the arms race. The hard-liners and neoconservatives did not believe the intelligence,though, and created their own team of analysts, Team B (of which Paul Wolfowitz was a member), to prove the intelligence community wrong. Team B's team of "outside analysts" came to the (incorrect) conclusion that the US had fallen behind the Soviet Union, and their findings were cited to justify a more alarmist approach to Soviet relations and a massive arms build up. (Sound familiar?)


A.L. said...

Good post. Roberts really is a ginormous tool.

Hume's Ghost said...

Yep. The only time I can think of Roberts endorsing an inquiry was when he tried to get Patrick Fitzgerald investigated.

That, to me, clearly demonstrates where his priorities lie.