Letter to the Editor

Caution needed on wiretapping limits

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

To the editor:

Most wars are short, intense periods in history. During such emergencies, we give up some of our freedoms, knowing it's only temporary. Yet when President Bush says warrantless wiretapping of Americans is legal because we're at war, this war is different. We'll have troops in Iraq for decades. We'll be fighting terrorism when my grandchildren have grandchildren. Any emergency powers granted to the president during this war are actually permanent.

The president claims warrantless wiretaps are limited to international calls from known terrorists to U.S. residents. In April 2004, though, President Bush said, "Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires a court order." That statement was false. Of course, he can't tell us about the wiretaps, because it would alert terrorists to them. But how do we know he hasn't secretly authorized domestic wiretaps of peace groups or the Democratic Party headquarters as well?

There's a solution: Under the FISA law, the administration can ask for a wiretap warrant, even retroactively, from a secret court. This requires the administration to get judicial agreement that a wiretap is justified and that the persons involved are linked to terrorism. Many people feel we should simply trust the president on this, but the president isn't always named Bush. Sometimes the president is named Clinton. Or Nixon. There is a form of government that entrusts all power to a single individual: monarchy (or dictatorship.) The Founders rejected this form of government for good reason. So should we.

ALLEN GATHMAN, Pocahontas, Mo.