The US Justice Department has released two memos detailing the Bush administration’s legal justification for monitoring the phone calls and emails of Americans without a warrant.

The documents, released late Friday, relate to a secret program dubbed Stellar Wind that began after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

It allowed the National Security Agency to obtain communications data within the United States when at least one party was a suspected Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda affiliate member, and at least one party in the communication was located overseas.

“Even in peacetime, absent congressional action, the president has inherent constitutional authority … to order warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance,” then-Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith said in a heavily redacted 108-page memo dated May 6, 2004.

“We believe that Stellar Wind comes squarely within the commander in chief’s authority to conduct the campaign against Al-Qaeda as part of the current armed conflict and that congressional efforts to prohibit the president’s efforts to intercept enemy communications through Stellar Wind would be an unconstitutional encroachment on the commander in chief’s power.”

The document was obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union rights group through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

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