Friday, April 04, 2008

AG Mukasey's FISA Fairy Tales

Earlier this week, the release of the declassified Yoo torture memos was met with crickets in most circles, putting a punctuation mark in Bush's final year in office on how casually he has politicized the Justice Department and the war on terror.

This began right after (heck, before) 9/11 with Attorney General Ashcroft. Then we got Alberto Gonzales and he turned out to be even worse and more shameless. Then he fell on his sword for his President, and we got Michael Mukasey, and all was supposedly well. One recent event in particular shows Mukasey to be no different than his two predecessors. It is in regards to the ongoing battle over the President's warrantless wiretapping program.

Speaking last week to make the case for expanding the President's surveillance authority and for telecom immunity, AG Mukasey teared up and said the following-
Officials "shouldn't need a warrant when somebody with a phone in Iraq picks up a phone and calls somebody in the United States because that's the call that we may really want to know about. And before 9/11, that's the call that we didn't know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn't know precisely where it went."

At that point in his answer, Mr. Mukasey grimaced, swallowed hard, and seemed to tear up as he reflected on the weaknesses in America's anti-terrorism strategy prior to the 2001 attacks. "We got three thousand. . . . We've got three thousand people who went to work that day and didn't come home to show for that," he said, struggling to maintain his composure.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, there are several lies packed in these two paragraphs. The first being that FISA never prevented the type of international surveillance he refers to here. And even if it had-- which it didn't-- surveillance could've begun immediately, as long as a warrant was filed for retroactively within 72 hours (hardly a difficult task). To argue that the very flexible FISA was a constraint that needed to be removed is to argue-- as Yoo did in the memos mentioned above-- that the President can invalidate any law he doesn't like on a whim.

But the bigger lie may be that the example he uses in that speech (the safe house in Afghanistan)... is a complete fabrication. The Attorney General, lie? I know, I am shocked too. How could they know about a call that they failed to intercept? How come this is not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission report? Etc.

Greenwald received a response from Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission Executive Director (and former Counselor to Condi Rice), indicating that he has no idea what the Attorney General is talking about. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers never heard of this either, and has demanded answers.

There was a call intercepted just prior to 9/11, but not the one Mukasey mentions. It was intercepted on September 10, warning of the next day's attacks, but it wasn't acted on because they simply didn't have anyone to translate it. And in regards to connecting the dots, the pre-9/11 problem wasn't a failure to collect the dots, but to connect them. Doing so is a question of intelligence; not sure how warrants and court oversight impede that.

Back to the tale that Mukasey is telling, Greenwald today received a response from the Principal Deputy Director of Public Affairs at the DoJ, which-- read the full article at that link-- raises more doubts than it eases them.

The administration's defense of their wiretapping program has-- from the very beginning-- been riddled by deceit, shifting rationales and reasonings, and fearmongering. That the Attorney General of the United States would seemingly lie in his promotion of this agenda, while using the memories of those killed that morning like cheap emotional blackmail, is no longer a shocking revelation. I am hopeful that Rep. Conyers is serious about following up on this because this should be treated as shocking.

The GOP will continue to abuse this issue all year. Democrats, in turn, should expose them as the liars they are.

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