President acted lawfully

Sunday, January 8, 2006

I read with interest the Dec. 29 letter to the editor from John Cook. In his letter, Cook concludes by asking what standards we hold President George W. Bush to "when he wiretaps Americans without a search warrant."

President Bush acted lawfully. We know this from the legal advice he received from career attorneys in the Justice Department, from the decisions of the federal appeals courts and from the uninterrupted custom and practice followed by presidents of both parties since passage of the relevant federal statute back in the late 1970s.

President Jimmy Carter was then in office. President Carter asserted presidential prerogatives in this area and approved essentially identical surveillance. So did President Bill Clinton, who in the one instance that we are aware of, approved this kind of warrantless surveillance in pursuing foreign intelligence.

One may fairly surmise that this is why both the Clintons and the Carters have been silent on this subject -- refusing to join the hysterical outcry -- since the disgraceful disclosure of it in the New York Times in early December.

Use of this highly sophisticated surveillance is how law-enforcement officials learned of and stopped the terrorist plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge a couple of years ago. The principal conspirator is in custody and not being lionized on al-Jazeera for another successful strike against the Great Satan. Proper use of this surveillance could very likely have prevented the 9-11 attacks altogether.

Not all Democrats are in full cry against this president's efforts to defend us. In addition to the known facts of the records of presidents Carter and Clinton, I commend readers to the words of U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., spoken on Dec. 21, 2005:

"As the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, I have been briefed on a highly classified National Security Agency foreign intelligence collection program that targeted al-Qaida. I believe the program is essential to U.S. national security and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities."

One may fairly surmise from Representative Harman's statement that had she been president (we could do worse!) she would have called in the editors of the New York Times and pleaded with them not to publish, just as President Bush did. More's the pity that they did publish, and so compromised means essential to preventing the slaughter of innocents by the thousands.

It has been 51 months, nearly 1,600 days, since the 9-11 attacks. How many of us would have bet on Sept. 12, 2001, that we would have gone this long without another major attack on American soil? I am immensely proud of President Bush's leadership in the war on terror.

I wonder: Can a major American political party really prosper in relentless attacks against the only president we have during wartime?

Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau is the lieutenant governor of Missouri.

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