For years, Bush said court orders required for spying
AFP | December 21 2005
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President George W. Bush, caught up in a domestic spying controversy, for the past two years has assured Americans worried about expanded government anti-terrorism powers that court orders were needed to tap telephones.
Bush has drawn fire over a 2002 order enabling the National Security Agency to monitor, without a judge's go-ahead, the telephone and electronic mail of US citizens suspected of Al-Qaeda ties when they are in touch with someone abroad.
Critics have charged that the unprecedented move is an abuse of power and a violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires court approval of wiretaps and electronic surveillance.
The White House has fired back that Bush's move is legal under the US Constitution and a congressional resolution, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, that authorized the use of force in Afghanistan.
In 2004 and 2005, Bush repeatedly argued that the controversial Patriot Act package of anti-terrorism laws safeguards civil liberties because US authorities still need a warrant to tap telephones in the United States.
"Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order," he said on April 20, 2004 in Buffalo, New York.
"Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so," he added.
On April 19, 2004, Bush said the Patriot Act enabled law-enforcement officials to use "roving wiretaps," which are not fixed to a particular telephone, against terrorism, as they had been against organized crime.
"You see, what that meant is if you got a wiretap by court order -- and by the way, everything you hear about requires court order, requires there to be permission from a FISA court, for example," he said in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
But under Bush's super-secret order, first revealed Friday by the New York Times and details of which have been confirmed by Bush and other top US officials, the National Security Agency does not need that court's approval.
"A couple of things that are very important for you to understand about the Patriot Act. First of all, any action that takes place by law enforcement requires a court order," he said July 14, 2004 in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin.
"In other words, the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order," he said. "What the Patriot Act said is let's give our law enforcement the tools necessary, without abridging the Constitution of the United States, the tools necessary to defend America."
The president has also repeatedly said that the need to seek such warrants means "the judicial branch has a strong oversight role."
"Law enforcement officers need a federal judge's permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist's phone, a federal judge's permission to track his calls, or a federal judge's permission to search his property," he said in June.
"Officers must meet strict standards to use any of these tools. And these standards are fully consistent with the Constitution of the United States," he added in remarks at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy.
He made similar comments in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 20 2005.
Vice President Dick Cheney offered similar reassurances at a Patriot Act event in June 2004, saying that "all of the investigative tools" under the law "require the approval of a judge before they can be carried out."
"And similar statutes have been on the book for years, and tested in the courts, and found to be constitutional," he said in Kansas City, Missouri.
Asked whether Bush had misled the US public, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday that Bush "was talking about (the issue) in the context of the Patriot Act."
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