In Reversal, Bush Admin to Seek Court Approval for Wiretaps
The Bush administration has reversed its policy to eavesdrop on US citizens without court-approved warrants. On Wednesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced wiretaps will now be approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as required by law. No reasons were given for the change but critics say it may be timed with increased scrutiny from the new Democratic Congress. Questions remain over the extent of the reversal. The Justice Department has not revealed whether FISA courts will rule on individual wiretaps or on requests covering multiple cases. Gonzales says the new policy was enacted last week and that one judge has already approved a request. Critics welcome the change but say the Bush administration shouldn’t be applauded for agreeing to comply with the law. House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers said: “While this may be a step in the right direction, it should not deflect the attention of the American people or the Congress from seeking answers about the current and past operation of this program.”
New Congressional Measures Oppose Iraq War Escalation
Debate over the Iraq war is growing on Capital Hill. On Wednesday, several lawmakers announced measures denouncing the Bush administration’s plan to send 21,000 more troops. In the House, Democratic Congressmembers Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters of California introduced a bill calling for a full US withdrawal within six months and a ban on permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. In the Senate, Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd introduced a plan that would require new congressional authorization for the war. Meanwhile, four senators -- Republicans Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe and Democrats Carl Levin and Joseph Biden -- introduced a bi-partisan resolution saying the Iraq war is harming national interests. Biden described the measure as a vote of no-confidence on the administration’s policy in Iraq.
Justice Dept. Firing of US Attorneys Raises Interference Concerns* amy:
In other news, a spate of dismissals of federal prosecutors is raising new allegations the Bush administration is interfering with the judicial system. In one controversial case, Justice Department officials have asked San Diego US Attorney Carol Lam to step down. Legal experts say the move is unprecedented because Lam was never accused of misconduct while in office. Lam oversaw the corruption prosecution against the jailed former Republican Congressmember Duke Cunningham. She’s also avoided low-level cases around border smuggling and focused on public corruption and white-collar crime. The Associated Press reports at least eleven US attorneys have resigned since last year’s enactment of an obscure provision in the USA Patriot Act that allows the U.S. attorney general to name replacements without Senate confirmation. Criticism is also being raised about those new replacements. In Arkansas, both state senators voiced concerns after the administration appointed a former research director for the Republican National Committee.
Gonzales to Judges: Stay Out of National Security Cases* amy:
These developments come as the Bush administration has issued a new warning to federal judges. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said federal judges are unqualified to rule on issues relating to national security policy and should always defer to the will of the administration and Congress when presiding over such cases.
Pentagon Study: No Evidence to Support Harsh Interrogation Tactics
A Pentagon advisory group has concluded almost no scientific evidence exists to support several interrogation techniques used in the so-called war on terror. In a new report, the Intelligence Science Board says painful and coercive techniques could even prevent interrogators from receiving valuable information. Several experts say the techniques were developed despite the complete absence of a scientific consensus about their effectiveness.