- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Two civil liberties groups yesterday sued President Bush and the National Security Agency, seeking an immediate end to the government’s program of warrantless surveillance of terrorist suspects.

“President Bush may believe he can authorize spying on Americans without judicial or congressional approval, but this program is illegal and we intend to put a stop to it,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The organization filed its lawsuit in federal court in Detroit on behalf of prominent journalists, scholars, attorneys, and national nonprofit organizations that frequently communicate by phone and e-mail with people in the Middle East.

“They believe their communications are being intercepted by the NSA,” the ACLU said. “The program is disrupting their ability to talk with sources, locate witnesses, conduct scholarship and engage in advocacy.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a similar lawsuit in federal court in New York.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the lawsuits frivolous and said the spying program was used to target “international communications involving known al Qaeda members or members of an affiliated terrorist organization.”

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said last month that the president, as commander in chief, has “inherent authority” under the Constitution to authorize the program. Mr. Bush also was given legal authority after September 11, 2001, when Congress authorized the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force” to combat terrorism, the attorney general said.

The ACLU lawsuit names U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who is director of the NSA, and seeks an immediate halt of the program. The CCR lawsuit names Gen. Alexander and Mr. Bush.

CCR said its lawyers represent hundreds of men detained as enemy combatants at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In the course of representing them and others accused of al Qaeda ties, the attorneys have “engaged in innumerable telephone calls and e-mails with people outside the United States,” CCR said.

“Given that the government has accused many of CCR’s overseas clients of being associated with Al Qaeda or of interest to the 9/11 investigation, there is little question that these attorneys have been subject to the NSA Surveillance Program,” CCR said.

The organization argues that the program violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes a secret court of judges appointed by the chief justice of the United States. The 1978 law requires the government to obtain a warrant from the secret court to conduct domestic espionage.

The ACLU charges that by authorizing the program without such judicial oversight, Mr. Bush has exceeded his authority under the Constitution’s clause providing for a separation of powers. The organization also charges that the spying program violates the First and Fourth amendment rights of free speech and privacy.

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