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…”

According 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.”

The 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.”

As reported 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.

The 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.

The President 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.

I agree 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.

For several 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.

Now the 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.

I agree 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.”

President 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.

The lesson 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.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

Ed Koch

Author Archive
Print This Article
Send Article To a Friend

More Commentary

The Liberal Bubble - Thomas Lifson
Big Brother W.? - Marshall Wittmann
How Bush Turned It Around - Patrick Buchanan

More From Ed Koch

A Fourth Position on Withdrawal
Making National Health Care a Priority
Let's Stop Destroying the Country We Love