I was on al-Jazeera television today. The interview began with former Vice President Al Gore charging President Bush with breaking the law. Next, was a lawyer from the Center for Constitutional Rights which, along with the ACLU, is arguing that the President is violating the U.S. Constitution. The CCR and the ACLU are suing in an attempt to “end to the surveillance program.”
Next up was Nihad Awad, Executive Director of CAIR, to say that the surveillance particularly targets Arabs and Muslims.
Then, the interviewer cited today’s New York Times page 1 story quoting FBI officials saying the surveillance program was of no value.
Finally, the interviewer turned to me to say, in essence: “Prominent Americans say this program is illegal, unconstitutional, discriminatory and useless. So why is Bush doing it and why are you defending it?”
I also debated an ACLU lawyer on “ABC News Now” – I wasn’t outnumbered but it was clear which side the interviewer was on. (For one thing, he attempted to give the guy from the ACLU both the first word and the last word. I didn’t quite let him accomplish that. Let’s just say I have sharp verbal elbows.)
Among the points I attempted to make in both confrontations: Prior to 9/11/01 there were at least 19 al-Qaeda members in the United States. They had committed no acts of terrorism. But they planned to. Members of our intelligence community evidently did not listen to the phone calls they made to, and received from, their employers abroad. Nor were their communications with one another monitored.
Most Americans probably believe that should have been done — that had it been done 3,000 American might not have been murdered. But the CCR, the ACLU and others are essentially saying that 9/11 was a fair price to pay to guarantee their idea of privacy rights. And if we have to pay that price again, so be it.
Also: It seem ludicrous on the face of it to argue that the President has the power to fire a missile at a terrorist leader such as Ayman al-Zawahri — but not to listen in when he phones friends and family in America.