Sloppy on spying?

The Washington Post complains that a federal judge's decision is insufficiently thoughtful. What about the criticism of it?


Tim Grieve
August 18, 2006 9:08PM (UTC)

So the Washington Post thinks that the federal court decision tossing out George W. Bush's warrantless spying program isn't sufficiently thoughtful? Well, at least that's a little more generous than the Wall Street Journal's approach. In a sneering editorial today, the Journal's editors accuse Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of gunning for a "Civil Libertarian of the Year" award and then complain that voters will have no way to hold her accountable for "any Americans who might die as a result" of her ruling.

But back to the Post. While acknowledging that Bush's warrantless wiretapping program "exists on ever-more uncertain legal ground," the paper's editorial board complains that Taylor's 44-page opinion enjoining it is "neither careful nor scholarly, and it is hard-hitting only in the sense that a bludgeon is hard-hitting." The same could be said, of course, about the right's criticism of the ruling.

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Some samples of the thought and care we've seen:

National Review: "Virtually every intelligence agency in the world is pursuing al-Qaida operatives and intercepting their communications. In Judge Taylor's perfect world, only the U.S. -- the primary target of al Qaida -- would be forbidden to do so." We don't know anything about Taylor's "perfect world," but in the one she describes in the ruling -- the one in which the president is bound by the rule of law -- the United States is hardly "forbidden" from intercepting the communications of al-Qaida. The Bush administration is free to intercept all the international communications it wants, and it remains free to intercept communications into and out of the United States so long as it gets a warrant -- either beforehand or after the fact -- as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Wall Street Journal: In an its editorial, the Journal says that Congress was "duly informed" about the warrantless wiretapping program." In our dictionary, "duly" means "in a due manner or time," and that's a standard the Bush administration plainly never met. The Congressional Research Service has found that the administration broke the law by providing only a handful of members of Congress with only limited briefings about the program before the New York Times revealed its existence. And even some Republicans have complained that the administration's post-disclosure briefings were inadequate.

Rush Limbaugh: "Make no mistake: this enemy is all over this country. It's all over the world, and this same type of surveillance program that was used by Bill Clinton and a number of other presidents, nobody beefed about it, nobody complained about it. This is liberals, ladies and gentlemen. This is leftists." As is often the case, we're not exactly sure what Limbaugh was talking about. We've never seen any evidence that Bill Clinton ordered the warrantless wiretapping of Americans' telephone calls. And if Limbaugh is referring to the oft-cited warrantless search of Aldrich Ames' home, that search occurred before FISA was amended to require warrants for physical searches. And as for the "liberals" and "leftists" who have a "beef" with Bush's warrantless wiretaps? That group has included, at various times, Arlen Specter, Bob Barr, Lindsey Graham and a majority of the American public.


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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