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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Coulter, Bush, and the Avoidance of Responsibility

I don't usually blog on the weekends, but this caught my eye and I couldn't help myself. An unopposed lie, oft repeated, becomes accepted as the truth. So consider this my part in holding the public arena to a bit of truth.

I really try not to pay much attention to Ann Coulter. She represents a huge problem with American media and the Republican Party in that she is apparently willing to accept anything, not only as necessary, but as a good thing - just as long as it comes from the Republican Party. Arsenic in Republican drinking water is good - pure Democratic drinking water is bad.

Now she is attacking Democrats for their concern over privacy issues rather than bland obeisance in the name of National Security. Of course, what else would you expect from Ann Coulter?

Ms. Coulter starts out arguing that the failure of the courts to deny a substantial number of applications as evidence that the court simply "rubber stamped" those applications. Since they are just "rubber stamping" applications, the FISA court represents no real protection of liberties.

The next complaint is that a large number of applications have been modified. So, apparently, they are not a "rubber stamp" court after all. Of course, this is evidence to Ms. Coulter that they are actually nothing more than anti-Bush and could care less about national security. Ms. Coulter gets to argue both sides of the issue here - first by claiming the court is irrelevant because it does nothing, then by claiming it is obstructionist because it does.

The FISA Annual Reports indicate that Ms. Coulter is, for what it's worth, identifying a real trend. Prior to the Bush Administration only one application had been denied (1997) and one had been modified (1980). "Modified" generally means that an application was approved in part and denied in part. In other words, the court found the application to be too broad and had narrowed the scope of the application.

Under the Bush Administration the caseload for the FISA Court has almost doubled. In 2001, 932 cases were put before the court. In 2004, it had risen to 1758. In 2001, 4 applications were modified - a better word might be "regulated". In 2002, only 2 were.

Those two cases bear deeper invistigation, though. Those two cases were actually refused by the FISA court and modified on appeal. Though the details of the case are classified, we can still glean some understanding from appeal ruling.

The government appealed on two grounds. The first was a previously unheard argument that the FISA court had violated its legal boundaries by insisting that FISA surveillance not be used primarily for prosecutorial purposes. The second was that the PATRIOT Act released the government from any such restrictions if they had existed. Furthermore, the PATRIOT Act relieved the government of "minimization" requirements - which means that the government could legally record ALL discusssions, not just ones that were germain to their investigations.

As a final big, throbbing middle finger to the FISA court, the government also claimed that the PATRIOT Act relieved it of any Fourth Amendment limitations. In other words, the PATRIOT Act trumps our Constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

To be fair, the arguments seem to be limited to the scope of FISA and it is only arguing about "our" rights if we are under surveillance. Still, this country was founded on the belief that even the guilty have rights - and those who are suspected of guilt have given up no rights at all.

Ms. Coulter's real problem is that she doesn't deal with the problem at hand at all. The Bush Administration did well to go through the FISA court to obtain warrants for surveillance. The problem is that there is an unknown number of cases that were never submitted to the court at all. Given the court's need to narrow the scope of government surveillance in those cases that were approved (modified), it is troubling that it chose not to even submit many cases to the oversight process.

It gives the appearance of an Adminstration that simply did not want to play by the rules rather than one who was zealously pursuing a badly needed protective action. If it was merely overloaded, then it would have been a simple thing to toss in a few billion to an appropriations bill and expand the ability of the court to provide oversight. While I don't have any data to suggest whether or not this happened, the lack of protest built on that issue indicates that it probably didn't happen.

The primary goal of any government is to protect its citizens. However, the fundamental premise of American government is that the government has only the power the people surrender to it willingly. If greater power was needed; then the President should have said so. There is absolutely no indication that anyone would have been niggardly with handing power to him after 9/11. Failure to be straightforward and forthcoming with the people of the United States just shows how little this Administration cares for the people it governs. It's goal was to avoid responsibility, not to protect its people.

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