Tuesday, June 26, 2007

FISA Judge Says Law Works If We'll Let It

Walter Pincus has a write up in the Washington Post about a speech given by former FISA judge Royce Lamberth.

When the NSA spy program initially came to the nations attention the administration claimed that the FISA law was outmoded, that applications for warrants caused delays, and the entire FISA system was cumbersome. Lamberth gives details which tend to prove the exact opposite of the administrations talking points.

For example, Judge Lamberth was caught up in the immediate aftermath of the Pentagon attack on 9/11, but describes how he was able to respond to the attack in his role as FISA Judge even before he had been freed from the mess:
He said he was driving near the Pentagon on his way to work on Sept. 11, having been to the dentist, and recalled, "My car was engulfed in smoke, and I couldn't move." He called for help, and the FBI came "to get me in a position where I could get Justice to start approving FISA [warrants]. . . . By the time the FBI got to me in my car, I had already approved five."
Does that sound like a cumbersome process, with delays and various roadblocks impeding the investigation of the attacks? Lamberth approved five warrants when he was caught in the traffic jam after the Pentagon attack. How do you get more flexible and responsive than that?

Judge Lamberth tells us that the FISA court changed it's procedures after the 9/11 attacks in order to provide even faster and more responsive action when the administration requested it:
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the court shifted gears. "We changed procedures and put in all the orders from September 12 forward based on the oral briefing with the director of the FBI and the chief judge of the FISA court," Lamberth said. "The courts can respond in times of national crisis, and I think the courts have to, and we did."

One reason, he said, is that "if you move very quickly, that's when things are most productive, particularly in e-mails. As soon as an event happens, everybody is e-mailing everybody and you pick up the most productive tape."
Not to mention that the FISA law specifically allowed the administration to conduct warrantless surveillance in the case that some event caused a delay in the issuance of a warrant by the FISA court, as long as that warrant was obtained within three days after the surveillance was started.

Also noteworthy is Judge Lamberth's description of the successes of the FISA program in catching terrorists and seeing them successfully brought to justice for their activities. Take for example the Judge's recollection of the Ahmed Ressam case:
Ahmed Ressam ... was arrested at a Canadian border crossing with explosives in December 1999. He was later convicted of taking part in a plot to bomb U.S. sites during millennium celebrations. Lamberth said investigators found a "little piece of paper . . . with a phone number on it" in Ressam's wallet.

"The FBI came to me that same night for a warrant for that number. I gave it to them. It led to an apartment in New York. The tap on that apartment in New York led them to the cell in Montreal that had set Ressam on his way," the judge added. The apartment was raided on "a warrant that I issued under FISA . . . and they found bomb-making materials at the apartment."
This case is an example of how the system worked effectively and in a manner consistent with the laws and constitution of America. Under the Bush administration however terrorism cases quite often can not be brought against those accused because allowing them access to courts would expose the administrations allowance of torture in interrogating the accused. The cases against many of the accused are based upon the tortured confessions of other detainees which evidence would never be allowed in court.

What I'm getting at here is that we see justice given to terrorists when we follow the constitution, but we have an ongoing stain on American honor when extra legal mechanisms are relied upon by the Administration, which system does not lead to fair justice. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will never be tried for masterminding the 9/11 attacks in a fair court because that would expose the people directing his detention as war criminals who tortured him and threatened his children to make him tell us what we wanted to hear. The Bush administration has denied American citizens justice in many cases where justice is demanded and harmed our interests on the world stage in so doing.

The administration is fond of bashing people who do not agree with them for having a pre 9/11 mindset. I contend the danger to American ideals comes from the post 9/11 mindset of the Bush administration, tearing down constitutional precepts, acting outside the law, and causing dishonor to America. Just as the word liberal is supposedly poisoned with heavily negative connotations, yet I proudly accept that label, let me also proudly acknowledge that I hold a pre 9/11 mindset. A mindset which looked to the constitution and the laws of the land for solutions to our problems. A mindset which would not allow unreasoned fear to guide this nation from the moorings on which it was founded. Judge Lamberth is just the latest little piece of news that reaffirms my view in this matter.

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