Let the Specter hearings begin
Other editors say
At the very least, the furor over surveillance deserves a closer look
The Baltimore Sun
The continuing fallout from President Bush's use of the National Security Agency for domestic eavesdropping shows that the matter deserves a more complete examination than the administration has been willing ' thus far, at least ' to engage in. All the more reason to welcome the hearings promised by Sen. Arlen Specter, Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, when Congress returns this month. At the least, those hearings should serve as a reminder that the executive branch does not operate in a vacuum and that under our system of government, there are checks and balances.
Recent reports have revealed that the scope of the NSA's efforts to monitor phone and e-mail conversations of citizens, legal residents and others on American soil who were allegedly communicating with members or sympathizers of al-Qaida abroad was even more widespread than first documented this month. Many defense lawyers in terrorism cases are also threatening to challenge whether evidence against their clients was based on illegal wiretaps. While some defendants accepted plea bargains or waived some rights to appeal, they may be entitled to know if the government was spying on them. The administration's arrogant defense of its behavior would collapse if even one terrorism case was thrown out.
White House officials are being asked to explain to the special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which routinely approves secret wiretaps, why they felt the necessity to set up a different procedure. And one of the surveillance court judges resigned in protest last week.
But this is not just a battle to be fought in the courts. Congress, which has significant powers to declare and finance wars, also needs to weigh in and explore the source and scope of Bush's authority. So far, the administration has relied mostly on the president's powers as commander in chief and on the congressional resolution to go after the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks. But various members of Congress, as well as former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle, think Bush exceeded the legal authority that the resolution was meant to allow.
It's up to Congress and the courts to extract a more thorough explanation and justification of the administration's actions ' and to challenge and correct any excessive use of executive authority.