- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

Egypt’s progress

The Wednesday Op-Ed “A ‘new’ and ‘open’ Egypt?” by Nir Boms misrepresented the facts regarding the trial of Ayman Nour and seemed to imply that he was being tried not for forging official documents and seals but rather for running in Egypt’s last presidential elections. The fact of the matter is that the verdict — which, incidentally, may still be overturned on appeal — was the outcome of a months-long trial with testimony from tens of witnesses for the prosecution and the defense alike.

In painting a grim picture of the reform process in Egypt, the article overlooked the undeniable, significant steps taken over the past few months alone which included amending the constitution to provide for multi-candidate presidential elections, holding those elections, holding parliamentary elections, amending most laws governing political participation and creating an independent Council on Human Rights, to mention but a few.

True, Egypt faces many challenges in its pursuit of democratic reform, including the erosion of secular political parties and the increased popularity of religious trends. But alarmism and one-dimensional analyses contribute very little to helping Egyptians as they grapple with serious, complex issues that will have a decisive impact on the future evolution of their democracy.

WAEL ABOULMAGD

Counselor

Embassy of Egypt

Washington

A charitable scam

People who knowingly profited for so long from a dishonest activity like claiming a fair-market value’s worth in tax deductions for a donated auto that sell for much less (“Running on empty,” Business, Thursday). Car donations to charities are a scam of which participants on both sides of the transaction are well aware.

Why sell your old car for $500 and have the hassle of finding a buyer? Call your favorite charity and let them haul it away. Then take a $2,000 deduction on your tax return and let the government try to prove that it was not worth what you deducted, which won’t happen because of the cost of enforcement.

It may be too bad that charities’ revenues are down this winter, but it’s certainly appropriate that the IRS should put a stop to this petty white-collar crime committed behind the false face of doing good.

BRAD JOHNSTON

Warrenton Va.

Wiretaps: precedent and necessity

Paul Greenberg (“When domestic spying isn’t,” Commentary, Thursday) is incorrect to point to Abraham Lincoln as supposed historical support for President Bush’s unilateral authorization of domestic spying. Lincoln asked Congress, the entire body, to retroactively authorize his unilateral suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which it did. Mr. Bush secretly told a few congressional leaders about his unilateral decision to authorize warrantless searches, and refused to consult the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review to authorize such searches, which is the required process.

Lincoln fought the Civil War with Congress, but Mr. Bush is arguing that he can fight the war on terror without it. That is why Lincoln is not a good example for Mr. Greenberg to cite as support for Mr. Bush’s authorization of warrantless searches.

KENNETH MICHAEL WHITE

Upland, Calif.

Michael Barone is correct in saying President Bush has the constitutional right to intercept foreign communications between suspected terrorists overseas and their contacts in the United States (“Within… or outside the law?”, Commentary,Wednesday). Jimmy Carter says so.

Mr. Carter, not known for his vigilance in the war on terror, signed Executive Order 12139 on May 23, 1979, which read: “The attorney general is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence without a court order.” Even he recognized that in his role of commander in chief he had extraordinary responsibilities that might require extraordinary tools.

Americans are concerned with civil liberties, to be sure. But it was concern for the civil liberties of the 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, that caused the FISC to deny a pre-September 11 request by the FBI to search his computer.

FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley has documented her fellow agents’ frustration when the court refused to authorize the search warrant in August 2001. The whole plot might have fallen apart had the FBI had access to the information on Moussaoui’s hard drive. By refusing to sign the FISA request, the court signed the death warrant for 3,000 people.

The September 11 commission found that two of the September 11 hijackers were communicating from San Diego with al Qaeda operatives overseas. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have listened in on their conversations? The two men were Nawaf Alhamzi and Khalid Almihdar. They were among the five who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and flew it into the Pentagon.

Even the New York Times, while exposing the operation, acknowledged that it had broken up terrorist plots, citing Ohio trucker Iyman Faris, who pleaded guilty to supporting al Qaeda by plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.

When the CIA captured al Qaeda computers, cell phones and phone directories in the early days of the war on terror, the United States and the Bush administration moved quickly and legally to exploit this information in defense of the American people.

In order to connect the dots, you have to collect them first.

DANIEL JOHN SOBIESKI

Chicago

For a constitutional lawyer, Bruce Fein flunks the test when he cherry-picks ideas from the Federalist Papers to support his libertarian view of the president’s war powers (“Within… or outside the law?” Commentary, Thursday). Mr. Fein also fails to cite similar upheld cases for warrantless searches conducted during the Carter and Clinton years, and instead focuses on ruling in a labor dispute at an Ohio steel mill during the Korean War which was overturned by the Supreme Court.

Mr. Fein’s attempt to draw a comparison between our current-day enemies plotting and planning death and destruction versus whether or not the government should take over a steel mill to ensure wartime production demonstrates the lengths he will go.

In addition, Mr. Fein accuses President Bush of “adamantly refus[ing] to acknowledge any constitutional limitations on his power to wage war.” Not so. White House lawyers thoroughly researched the president’s wartime powers and rightly concluded, as Bill Clinton’s lawyers did, that the president has inherent authority to conduct foreign surveillance and intercept international communications from our enemies.

Then Mr. Fein demands that “Congress should insist the president cease the spying unless or until a proper statute is enacted or face possible impeachment.” Imagine, not only should the president’s wartime powers be limited by a judge’s decision, but Congress should enact a statute to stop the spying. What a hairbrained idea — enact a statute that overturns the Constitution. We have an executive precisely for the purpose of executing the necessary actions to safeguard Americans and America’s interest.

Civil libertarians always cry foul whenever the executive branch exercises its legal authority. They claim the separation of powers is too important to be discarded in the name of expediency. Hogwash. Congress and the courts are too slow in responding to today’s threats with endless hearings and briefs and counterarguments.

The president is on firm legal standing. The separation of powers will live another day.

RAY WIKSTROM

Jacksonville, Fla

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