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The Criminal NSA Eavesdropping Program

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Glenn Greenwald
Campaign For Liberty
April 2, 2010

While torture and aggressive war may have been the most serious crimes which the Bush administration committed, its warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens was its clearest and most undeniable lawbreaking. Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker yesterday became the third federal judge — out of three who have considered the question — to find that Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program was illegal (the other two are District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor and 6th Circuit Appellate Judge Ronald Gilman who, on appeal from Judge Taylor’s decision, in dissent reached the merits of that question [unlike the two judges in the majority who reversed the decision on technical "standing" grounds] and adopted Taylor’s conclusion that the NSA program was illegal).

That means that all 3 federal judges to consider the question have concluded that Bush’s NSA program violated the criminal law (FISA). That law provides that anyone who violates it has committed a felony and shall be subject to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each offense. The law really does say that. Just click on that link and you’ll see. It’s been obvious for more than four years that Bush, Cheney, NSA Director (and former CIA Director) Michael Hayden and many other Bush officials broke the law — committed felonies — in spying on Americans without warrants. Yet another federal judge has now found their conduct illegal. If we were a country that actually lived under The Rule of Law, this would be a huge story, one that would produce the same consequences for the lawbreakers as a bank robbery, embezzlement or major drug dealing. But since we’re not such a country, it isn’t and it doesn’t.

The Criminal NSA Eavesdropping Program 110310banner1

Although news reports are focusing (appropriately) on the fact that Bush’s NSA program was found to be illegal, the bulk of Judge Walker’s opinion was actually a scathing repudiation of the Obama DOJ. In fact, the opinion spent almost no time addressing the merits of the claim that the NSA program was legal. That’s because the Obama DOJ — exactly like the Bush DOJ in the case before Judge Taylor — refused to offer legal justifications to the court for this eavesdropping. Instead, the Obama DOJ took the imperial and hubristic position that the court had no right whatsoever to rule on the legality of the program because (a) plaintiffs could not prove they were subjected to the secret eavesdropping (and thus lacked “standing” to sue) and (b) the NSA program was such a vital “state secret” that courts were barred from adjudicating its legality.

Those were the arguments that Judge Walker scathingly rejected. All of the court’s condemnations of the DOJ’s pretense to imperial power were directed at the Obama DOJ’s “state secrets” argument (which is exactly the same radical and lawless version, as TPM compellingly documented, used by the Bush DOJ to such controversy). From the start, the Obama DOJ has engaged in one extraordinary maneuver after the next to shield this criminal surveillance program from judicial scrutiny. Indeed, their stonewalling at one point became so extreme that the court actually threatened the Obama DOJ with sanctions. And what TPM calls the Obama DOJ’s “Bush-mimicking state secrets defense” has been used by them in one case after the next to conceal and shield from judicial review a wide range of Bush crimes — including torture, renditions and surveillance. As the Electronic Frontiers Foundation put it: “In Warrantless Wiretapping Case, Obama DOJ’s New Arguments Are Worse Than Bush’s.”

This article was posted: Friday, April 2, 2010 at 4:49 am





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