- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007

How can Gonzales, Mueller not resign?

I wish former House Majority Leader Dick Armey was still in Congress. The conservative Republican — as he retired in December 2002 — asked his colleagues to “use these tools we have given you to make us safe in such a manner that they will preserve our freedom.” In the original Patriot Act, Mr. Armey and Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, were responsible for the “sunset” clause that required Congress to, over time, look again at certain parts of that law — to preserve our freedoms. But for years, without oversight, the FBI got away with abusing our privacy in its imperious use of national security letters.

The full extent of the FBI’s invasions of tens of thousands of citizens’ privacy is still not clear. But the Justice Department’s inspector-general, Glenn Fine, in his report this month has admirably begun to awaken both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to regenerate the separation of powers, find out how much damage has been done and name all of those responsible, not only in the FBI.

It is important to keep in mind that later in Congress’s reauthorization of the Patriot Act it was Mr. Leahy who insisted on strengthening the “sunset” provisions by requiring that the Justice Department’s inspector-general audit the FBI’s use of national security letters. This provision was not included in the reauthorization bills passed by the House or the Senate; but Mr. Leahy pushed it through in conference negotiations. Mr. Fine did not do this report on his own.

The White House objected strongly to this audit provision in keeping with its conviction that in the war on terrorism, the “unitary executive” need not answer in matters of national security to Congress or the judiciary.

It is now up to the bipartisan House and Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to focus not only on accountability but also into which interconnected government databases this flood of personal information from telephone logs, e-mails, banking records and other sources has been poured by the FBI.

With regard to those responsible for deepening Americans’ distrust of administration promises to stay within constitutional limits in ferreting out terrorists, there was a certain hollowness in FBI Director Robert Mueller’s acceptance of full responsibility for the systemic skewering of FBI regulations and our laws under his watch. Mr. Mueller went on to say that in tightening the future use of national security letters: “It is important to do this consistent with the privacy protections and the civil liberties which we and the FBI are sworn to uphold.” This is the same FBI that under his watch is targeting nonviolent lawful organizations opposing certain administrationpolicies thereby weakening the first and fourth amendments.

Furthermore, it was Mr. Mueller himself who took a long time to even acknowledge the e-mails sent him by conscientious FBI agents in the field who objected to very “coercive interrogations” of suspected terrorists by CIA and other interrogators. Some of these abusers actually pretended to be FBI agents, much to the justified anger of the FBI agents who complained to Mr. Mueller.

Then there is the accountability of the chief law-enforcement officer of the United States, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

In a March 11 interview with The Washington Post, Mr. Gonzales said: “If there are questions raised, I have an obligation to make sure we’re doing things in the right way. I expect people to do their jobs. And if they don’t, there’s going to be accountability.” Starting soon after the Patriot Act was signed into law by the president, there were many questions raised about these FBI incursions into privacy — not only by Democrats but also by conservative libertarian Republicans, civil-liberties organizations, investigative reporters and ordinary citizens in letters to the editor.

But while these national security letters written by FBI agents themselves who, by the law, did not have to get judicial approval were violating our privacy rights recklessly, Mr. Gonzales saw nothing to question.

Predictably and ritualistically, the president has expressed “all the confidence in the world” in the attorney general and he also supports Mr. Mueller. Does this give us reason to have confidence in the president? Meanwhile, no one seems to have noticed that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board appointed by the president as recommended by the September 11 Commission has been asleep. That’s just as well, however, because the board has no subpoena powers, and to obtain documents it must obtain permission from (you guessed it) Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

All this would be farcical if it weren’t essential to have confidence in our government in a war against such monstrous enemies. At least, in self-respect, how can Messrs. Gonzales and Mueller not resign?

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