Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution:
NOT ALL POLITICS IS OPINION
It is simply not true that all text and all language are opinion. That bias gives rise to a radical perversion of the "fairness doctrine", whereby all stories, no matter how evidentially sound, must include reference to at least one assertion that contradicts the lead story, no matter how evidentially void this oppposing assertion. [Full Story]
FMR VP AL GORE GIVES 'TRANS-PARTISAN' SPEECH ON DANGERS OF EXTRA-CONSTITUTIONAL ABUSES
Former US Vice President Al Gore gave what is being described as an historic non-partisan speech, calling for a passionate nationwide movement to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States. Gore gave the speech in a non-partisan context, speaking at the Daughters of the American Revolution hall, with the express support and participation of Representative Bob Barr, Republican of Georgia.
The speech was attended by both Republicans and Democrats and thousands of people who fear that new arguments made by the Executive branch for expanded police powers pose a serious threat to the nation's system of government and the rule of law.
Noting the plurality of ideological underpinnings adhered to by those in attendance and those who supported the event, Gore remarked "In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power."
The National Security Whistleblowers Coalition praised Gore's speech as non-partisan and as containing sound practical and legal recommendations for protecting whistleblowers who reveal constitutional abuses and to protect constitutional provisions against erosion or infringement by the executive.
He warned that after being found to have violated constitutional protections in eavesdropping on large numbers of Americans, without judicial warrant or review, the current administration "has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress to prevent such abuses".
The speech was organized and sponsored by the Liberty Coalition, an alliance of grassroots organizations designed to approach issues of individual liberty and rule of law in a "transpartisan" way, without ideological preconceptions. According to the organization's mission statement:
"The Liberty Coalition works to help organize, support, and coordinate transpartisan public policy activities related to civil liberties and basic human rights. We work in conjunction with groups of partner organizations that are interested in preserving the Bill of Rights, personal autonomy and individual privacy."
Using the non-partisan nature of the event to highlight worrying, historically unusual executive activities, Mr. Gore by all accounts has taken an important step toward reframing the public debate on the issue of executive power, noting that the Bush administration's claims for expanded authority and control over individuals' private lives truly represents a major departure from all historical precedent.
The speech was given in conjunction with the national commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his work for civil rights, justice and equality before the law. He noted that King was "illegally wiretapped" and was considered a "dangerous" man by the FBI, despite his work being oriented toward enacting and securing the Constitution's protections for individual liberties and civil rights.
Mr. Gore concluded his remarks by citing the following King statement: "Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us."
The feeling that "a new spirit" may be on the rise was present in the message of the speech and in the reaction of the public. Gore received several ovations described by observers as "thunderous", as he very boldly accused the administration of wilfully violating constitutional law and undermining the time-tested American system of checks and balances.
Gore took pains to note that the rule of law was in danger and that it needed conscious and active defending. For this reason, he said, "many of us have come here to Constitution Hall to sound an alarm and call upon our fellow citizens to put aside partisan differences and join with us in demanding that our Constitution be defended and preserved."
He cited the New York Times' report that revealed the eavesdropping program, and stated unequivocally that the program was instituted and carried out "without search warrants or any new laws that would permit such domestic intelligence collection".
He also went on to note the important fact that, again in Gore's words, "During the period when this eavesdropping was still secret, the President went out of his way to reassure the American people on more than one occasion that, of course, judicial permission is required for any government spying on American citizens and that, of course, these constitutional safeguards were still in place."
The dual facts that the president noted the legal requirement for such safeguards, and that he was fully aware of the falsehood of his assurances, imply that there was awareness of the illegality of the wiretapping program at all levels. What's more, the executive now asserts that the law is irrelevant, because the administration now claims inherent war powers that allow it to go beyond or even "make new law" in the interests of national security.
Gore's speech very importantly made no reference to ideology, no reference to liberal or conservative ideals, no reference to Republican or to Democratic party-platform politics. Instead, he structured his analysis and his rhetoric around the provisions of the US Constitution itself and the intentions of its framers.
His goal seemed to be to re-orient public debate on the issue of the legality of expansive assumption of new powers by the executive, using the founding ideals of the nation as a yardstick. So, he warned of the threat of the rise of tyranny from within the democratic system, saying "A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men."
He also reminded the nation's public and leaders that the American Revolution was driven by a mission to throw off the chains of abusive monarchical powers, which without colonial representation in the British government, amounted to an unchecked executive tyranny.
In what may have been the philosophical backbone of the speech, the former vice president remarked that "An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution - an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free."
Continuing with the words of James Madison, considered the philosophical and political father of the Constitution, he stated: "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
He went on to detail many of the troubling occasions on which the executive took deliberate action to bend or to depart from existing legal and governmental constraints on police powers. He also noted actions and interpretations that show the administration has long been aware of the fallacy of its own arguments in favor of these "implied" powers.
Specifically, and perhaps most notably, Attorney General Gonzales himself "concedes that the Administration knew that the NSA project was prohibited by existing law and that they consulted with some members of Congress about changing the statute."
He then added that in talking of how those negotiations proceeded, "Gonzales says that they were told this probably would not be possible. So how can they now argue that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force somehow implicitly authorized it all along?" Gonzales has agreed to testify before the Senate, in public, and to answer questions regarding the NSA program, its extent and its legality.
It might be noted that after Mr. Gore's speech, the attorney general appeared on CNN's Larry King Live and refuted the assertion that he knowingly participated in a program that violated the law or undermined the Constitution. He also said the Clinton administration's policies were not in keeping with Gore's current position.
The White House has sought to deflect attention to the NSA wiretapping program by citing examples where they allege the Clinton administration engaged in "warrantless physical searches" and to one occasion where Clinton's deputy attorney general defended the president's power to do so.
What is striking in this particular political controversy, is that the branch of government sworn to enforce and to uphold the rule of law has come to argue that laws have somehow given it the implied power to ignore, circumvent or entirely violate existing law, without any possibility of constraint from other authorities or any checks on its powers. Whatever one's political persuasion, this assertion clearly contradicts several provisions of the United States Constitution.
The speech also makes clear that the apparent violations of constitutional and federal law inherent in the decision to wiretap American citizens without judicial review constitute impeachable offenses. Gore called on Congress to act within its constitutional authority to thoroughly investigate, declassify and reveal the extent of the eavesdropping program.
The speech supports the idea that the process must prevail, and that it is the rule of law and not political competition or enmity that is at stake. And Mr. Gore clearly defended at several points the importance of due process in the US system of law-enforcement and justice. But, he admits that on legal grounds, he believes the issue is already decided.
According to Gore's comments, it is not in doubt that the administration acted without legal authority. He alleges, in fact, that it is precisely the violation of the law which is the goal of the plan. And, in defending the NSA program, the White House has repeatedly asserted its belief that —paradoxically— the law implies that the executive branch has the right to violate the law's provisions, regardless of protections against such acts.
Through an investigative process, it might then be one of several possible remedies to initiate the prosecution of executive officials directly involved in wilfully violating the law. Whether or not this is likely to happen may depend on the outcome of Republican party leadership contests and/or the upcoming November elections.
Certainly, if the opposition Democratic party were to gain a majority in either house, it would be more likely that some price would have to be paid for violations of constitutional law. But, events may also depend on the style, ideology and comfort-level of new Republican leadership regarding these apparent abuses. And, there does not appear to be an electoral agenda in the format or the forum of this speech.
Every top Republican in the House has been implicated in the Abramoff lobbying-bribery scandal (though innocent until proven guilty), and the former majority leader has stepped down after being indicted on charges of money laundering; money has been returned or donated to charity, and there is a scramble among some opportunists for the top positions. The Senate majority leader Bill Frist is still under scrutiny for possible insider trading violations. With or without significant leadership changes, political pressure could go a long way toward motivating action to correct abuses.
Currently, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has been accused by some Republicans of going too far in proposing lobbying reform in a reaction to the toxic political weathers surrounding the Abramoff scandal and related allegations of bribery. The Speaker may have genuine reasons for wanting to reform the lobbying industry, but his reaction to the scandal clearly shows that political pressure can yield a legislative response, sometimes for the better health of the republic.
One commentary on About.com observed "One day, we will all look back to Mr. Gore's speech, and either be proud that we listened and understood and fought for the sanctity of the US Constitution.....or be embarrassed and shocked that we didn't comprehend the utter seriousness of the predicament of the United States of America in 2006." [s]