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Senators subpoena White House over illegal surveillance programme

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Editor’s Note: Should an actual “showdown” occur over the constitutionality of Cheney’s stonewalling, we would welcome it. Let’s know exactly where we stand with respect to the willingness of elected officials to stand up to the criminals-in-chief.

It’s well past the time Leahy and company should have been pressing for these sorts of answers. Get on with it.

By Leonard Doyle in Washington

Published: 28 June 2007

The Bush administration may soon face a courtroom showdown over its secret eavesdropping programme after subpoenas were issued to the White House, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and the Justice Department.

There is a storm gathering over Mr Cheney in particular, with increasingly vocal demands for his impeachment for “political crimes against the nation”.

The Senate Judiciary Committee wants to know the legal basis, if any, for the placing of wiretaps on American citizens without court warrants, as part of the war on terror.

These taps were placed by the National Security Agency, which runs a vast international electronic eavesdropping and codebreaking web with Britain’s GCHQ. When reports emerged in the media of the wiretaps, it provoked widespread anger.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy gave the Bush administration until 18 July to hand over documents which the White House described last week as highly classified and off limits.

Senator Leahy wrote: “Over the past 18 months, this committee has made no fewer than nine formal requests to the Department of Justice and to the White House, seeking information and documents about the authorisation of and legal justification for this programme.”

The eavesdropping programme began after the attacks of 11 September 2001. It allowed monitoring of terror suspects’ phone calls, emails and financial transactions in and out of the US. It is not known how many intercepts were made, nor how widely the net was cast or whether it included opponents of the US invasion of Iraq.

An increasingly aggressive Congress is now focused on Mr Cheney. He is identified as the driving influence over President Bush in America’s war on terror – blamed for allowing the US military to torture terror suspects in their custody and for sweeping away a longstanding ban on assassinations.

Yesterday’s move is the most assertive by Congress since the Democrats took control of the House last year. It all emerged from the extraordinary testimony to the Senate last month in which a justice official described a confrontation with the former attorney general John Ashcroft when he refused to give legal cover to the secret surveillance activities. The whistleblower, James Comey, described a furious row between top White House emissaries and Justice Department officials over the wiretaps.

Ever fearful of being branded soft in the war on terrorism, this testimony gave the Democrats the opening they needed to discover whether President Bush broke the law when ordering the surveillance.

The Vice-President is accused of grasping and exercising presidential powers, dodging political accountability and violating the Constitution.

Most recently he refused to respond to an order governing classified documents, by claiming that because of his role as president of the Senate he was not part of the executive branch of government. At a stroke he argued that he was above and beyond the Constitution.

Source URL: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article2717306.ece