December 21, 2005
The President Is Not the Enemy
By Ed Koch
The media and
the Democratic congressional leadership, including Senator Harry
Reid and Representative Nancy Pelosi, joined by some other members
of Congress, have denounced President Bush for, as The New York
Times noted, secretly authorizing the National Security Agency
“to intercept the communications of Americans and terrorist
suspects inside the Untied States without first obtaining warrants
from a secret court that oversees intelligence matters…”
to The Times, “sometime in 2002, President Bush
signed a secret executive order scrapping a painfully reached,
25-year-old national consensus: spying on Americans by their government
should generally be prohibited, and when it is allowed, it should
be regulated and supervised by the courts. The laws and executive
orders governing electronic eavesdropping by the intelligence
agency were specifically devised to uphold the Fourth Amendment’s
prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Times continues, ““But Mr. Bush secretly decided
that he was going to allow the agency to spy on American citizens
without obtaining a warrant -- just as he had earlier decided
to scrap the Geneva Conventions, American law and Army regulations
when it came to handling prisoners in the war on terror.”
by The Times, the President acknowledged Saturday that
“he had ordered the National Security Agency to conduct
an electronic eavesdropping program in the United States without
first obtaining warrants and said he would continue the highly
classified program because it was a ‘vital tool in our war
against the terrorists.’”
I wish The
Times and members of Congress were not so eager to demean
the President of the U.S. and his advisers, holding them up to
scathing denunciation when we are at war. They should realize
that the President feels very strongly his obligation to protect
us from terrorists overseas and their supporters in this country
-- in World War II, such supporters were called Quislings. The
critics have short memories. In the 1993 and 9/11 (2001) attacks
on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the U.S. suffered
nearly 3,000 deaths and more than 1,000 injured.
Times has every right to disagree with the President’s
action in dispensing with the court set up for this purpose. But
it harms the country when it treats the President unfairly with
the language and contemptuous tone it now regularly employs.
is not a dictator which, in effect, Congressman Charles Rangel
called him when comparing him with disgraced Philippine President
Ferdinand Marcos. Nor is he a criminal intentionally violating
the U.S. Constitution and the civil liberties of our citizens,
subjecting himself to impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The President no doubt arrived at his position after being advised
by career government lawyers that he is acting within the law.
We are at war with millions of adherents of a fundamentalist Islamic
creed who believe they have a duty to kill us -- Christians, Jews,
Hindus and others -- who do not accept the supremacy of Islam
over their own religions.
with those who believe that the President was and is obligated
to seek orders from the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court
authorizing the invasions of privacy. If time were of the essence,
we are told by the experts that the warrants could have been secured
by telephone authorization from that Court. The FISA legislation
allows in emergencies for the government to tap phones for 72
hours without a warrant from the court and then seek one retroactively.
If the court processes are inadequate, then the President should
over the last several years have sought legislation to improve
them or give him greater direct authority with the Congress to
make that decision.
years Republican and Democratic leaders have been briefed on what
the President was doing and declined to protest or bring the disputed
procedures to the attention of the House and Senate. They could
have done so using closed sessions so as not to alert the enemy.
Instead, they allowed the President to continue the surveillance.
press and some of those members of Congress by their public revelations
have alerted the enemy to the surveillance program. And the media
and some members of Congress have forgotten or don’t care
that we are at war and their disclosures may have prevented the
administration from obtaining information otherwise available
that would help military and law enforcement authorities to deter
acts of terrorism here and abroad.
with the Times editorial when it points out, “This
particular end run around civil liberties is also unnecessary.
The intelligence agency already had the capacity to read your
mail and your e-mail and listen to your telephone conversations.
All it had to do was obtain a warrant from a special court created
for this purpose.”
Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in their defense
have said nothing that justifies the President’s failure
to apply to the FISA court.
We are at
war. There is a balance to be struck between protecting the security
of the country and the personal privacy of individuals. During
World War Two all kinds of restrictions were placed on American
civil liberties. Most horrendously, Japanese Americans, and some
Italian-Americans and German-Americans, were sent to detention
camps with the approval of the Supreme Court. But when the war
ended, the restrictions ended, and the Congress acknowledged we
had gone too far. We returned to our core values.
is this: the survival of our country is paramount, but that survival
must be achieved without destroying our core values as a society.
Our Founding Fathers started a revolution in order to achieve
“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These
are not just words. They are our fundamental beliefs and must
be protected. To see on the other hand the President as the enemy
-- which the savage and unfair attacks upon him convey to the
world-- is harmful to the security of our country and, therefore,
injures us all.
Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.