Tuesday, February 07, 2006

NSA Hearings Hangover

One of the unfortunate things about living in Tucson is the time difference between here and the East Coast (currently two hours; three hours during daylight savings). That means I only have about half an hour to collect myself here at work before the hearings pick up again. Yes, I can listen and do my work at the same time. Blogging it may be another story, but I digress.

I was struck again yesterday (and again, and again, and again) by the administration's strategy of constant repetition of facts that, while true, are irrelevant to the matter at hand. Q: Mr. Attorney General, did this president authorize the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens? A: During times of war, presidents all the way back to George Washington have authorized warrantless surveillance of foreign spies and enemies. Yes, yes they have. That's not at issue. At issue is the degree to which American citizens have had their privacy illegally invaded. Gonzales and his defense attorneys, er, I mean, some of the Republican senators questioning him repeatedly invoked George Washington's interceptions of British communiques as if that--spying on a foreign enemy in a declared war prior to the existence of the US Constitution--is somehow sufficient precedent for a modern president to wiretap US citizens without a warrant, without probable cause, in apparent clear violation of the Fourth Amendment to the very much existant US Constitution.

Perhaps the most troubling spectre to float out of yesterday's hearing was that of other surveillance programs we don't know about yet. The Attorney General framed many of his responses as pertaining only to "the program we are discussing today." The most telling moment came when Kennedy asked directly whether other, more insidious domestic spying programs were either in the works or already operational. Gonzales hesitated, silent, for a good two or three seconds, sighed deeply, and stammered, as if his tongue had suddenly swollen to the size of a canned ham, that he could not answer that question.

What the hell.

I found this particularly interesting in light of the fact that Specter refused to swear Gonzales in at the beginning o f the proceedings. Was this a faint glimmer of conscience at work, as if Kennedy touched a nerve that, despite being deeply buried, is so hot that Gonzales coldn't help but flinch?

If this is troubling to me, well, it's troubling. I have a lot of baseball caps perched on my bedpost, and not one of them is made of tinfoil. I watched the X-Files religiously, but I'm not big on conspiracies (I was, however, very big on Gillian Anderson--speaking of whom, what the hell happened to her brain that she decided she needed to join the anorexia brigades? Sheesh).

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