Did Bush break the law? This is the question posed by many members of Congress lately and for good reason. President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, in an effort to better protect American citizens.
This week, hearings will seek to determine whether or not this practice is a violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and/or Americans' Constitutional rights.
There's a major gray area though, that makes it very difficult to determine if he is indeed in violation of any law or Constitutional right. If we look at FISA alone, the law requires everyone to get a warrant before wiretapping anyone from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The NSA did not do this, so at first glance it would appear that they are breaking the law. This fails, however, to account for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed on Sept. 18, 2001. The AUMF gave the president express authority to use any force necessary or appropriate against anyone involved with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Wiretapping falls under this "force" and is thus completely lawful.
Some are going so far as to say that since the NSA engaged in wiretapping they are in violation of citizens' Fourth Amendment rights. Bush asserts the wiretapping that's taken place has been monitoring international calls to and from the United States, so it's not necessarily domestic. The Fourth Amendment does not protect against reasonable searches, only unreasonable searches, and the Supreme Court has not said whether or not spying on people to get foreign intelligence requires a warrant.
If someone, for example, recently purchased heavy amounts of enriched uranium, then it would probably be reasonable to listen to their phone calls. Even if he hasn't violated any rights, what about FISA? Does the AUMF trump FISA or vice versa? Has this administration really broken any laws or violated any rights?
Not enough is known about how the wiretapping has been implemented to know the answer to this question yet, but with the information we have in front of us there are a few things worth mentioning.
No one is above the law, not even our president, and the investigation should be carried out to determine that nothing illegal took place. That said, I don't think the president has done anything wrong in this case. If there are citizens working with terrorists, then they are traitors and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If we are going to win the "war against terror," then we need to equip our federal agencies with all the tools they need to protect us. Our rights aren't much good to us if we're dead, are they? Gen. Michael Hayden, principal deputy director of national intelligence, affirmed that if the government had been using these wiretapping techniques before 9/11, we would have caught some of the al-Qaida operatives.
I fully support the surveillance program and believe that a lot of good can come of it. No one's rights are being violated here. For all of you who don't want the government listening to your phone calls, don't call suspected terrorists. It's really quite simple.
The government's not listening to your phone calls because how many beers you drank this weekend at your buddy's place isn't really an issue of national security. Bush has told us that the program was used for monitoring international calls, and the calls that have been monitored most assuredly warranted the action.
Simply because Democrats see this as another opportunity to lash out against Bush doesn't mean the man can be likened to Adolf Hitler (ahem, Lawrence Guyot), and it certainly doesn't mean that President Bush is guilty of anything other than doing his job.
Tyler Wittman is a senior speech communication major. His column runs every Tuesday in the Collegian.