On Wiretaps and Warrants

I’m not a flaming liberal, really, I’m not. I’m anti gun-control, anti-abortion, and for personal responsibility. But I do think Bush has gone too far. I just read Ann Coulter’s column “Why We Don’t Trust You With National Security” and it finally crystallized my annoyance with those defending the President on this issue.
The most annoying thing is that they are missing the point of the criticisms against the wiretapping program, which is that the government could have initiated the taps without a warrant and then obtained one later. There would be no delay, and the court is allowed by law to operate in secrecy, so security is not compromised by allowing the proceedings to become public record before it is necesary. If these phone calls were to or from numbers linked by evidence to terrorist organizations (as the President claims), that fact alone should meet the requirements of probable cause for a warrant to be issued.
I agree with Ms. Coulter that if someone is calling al-Zarqawi, then the government should be listening. But if we know that’s who they’re calling, then we have probable cause for a warrant. If we don’t know that’s who they’re calling, or that they themselves might be a terrorist, then why is the government listening to someone’s private conversation at random?
Ms. Coulter also tries to counter the argument that the FISA court rarely rejects wiretap requests by saying that the court has rejected them “like never before.” This may be true, that they have rejected more requests in the last four years than any years before, but even looking at the numbers she presents is telling. She states that in 2001 the court “modified 179 of the 5,645 requests.” That’s only 3.2% that were “modified.” It doesn’t tell us how many of those, if any, were rejected. For 2003-2004 she only gives us the number of requests that were modified, not how many were submitted, making that number meaningless in this argument. She quotes the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as saying the court “modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than from the four previous presidential administrations combined.” We don’t know why or how these requests were modified (and rightly so; it is, after all, a secret court, and for good reasons), but we must entertain the notion that those requests did not show sufficient probable cause for what was requested.
In the final analysis, the President has created a legal tangle that, when finally straightened out, could result in the release of an unknown number of terrorists if the courts decide that the evidence leading to thier convictions was obtained illegally. In bypassing the courts he has, in the long run, actually compromised national security. He has also sown distrust of the government among it’s own law abiding citizens.
The sad part is, it could have been easily avoided just by doing a little paperwork.

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