Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sowell Writes on the NSA Flap

Thomas Sowell:
"Terrorists and terrorist governments are giving us almost daily evidence of their fanatical hatred and violent sadism, as the clock ticks away toward their gaining possession of nuclear weapons. They not only hold a harmless young woman hostage in Iraq, they parade her in tears on television, just as they have paraded not only the terrorizing, but even the beheading, of others on television.

Moreover, there is a large and gleeful audience in the Arab world for these gross brutalities, just as there was glee and cheering among the Palestinians when the televised destruction of the World Trade center was broadcast in the Middle East.

Yet what are we preoccupied with or outraged about? Whether the American government should intercept the phone calls of these cutthroats to people in the United States.

That question has been sanitized in the mainstream media by asking whether the government should be engaged in 'domestic wiretapping,' just as the terrorists themselves have been sanitized into 'militants' or 'insurgents.'

The way the question is posed by many in the media and in politics, you would think our intelligence agencies were listening in on you talking on the phone to your aunt Mabel.

Be serious! There are more than a quarter of a billion people in the United States. Intelligence agencies have neither the manpower, the time, the money, nor the interest to listen in on you and your aunt Mabel.

Lawyers may differ on fine legal points about the Constitutional powers of the commander in chief during wartime versus the oversight powers of the courts. But, a Supreme Court Justice once pointed out that the Constitution of the United States is not a suicide pact.

The Constitution was meant for us to live under, not be paralyzed by, in the face of death.

When some honcho in the international terrorist network is captured in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the phone numbers in his computer are found by his American captors, it is only a matter of time before his capture becomes news broadcast around the world.

In the hour or two before that happens, his contacts within the United States may continue to use the phones they have been using. Listening in on their conversations during that brief window of opportunity can provide valuable information on enemies within our midst who are dedicated to our destruction."
This reminds me of a passage in David McCullough's Truman:
"It could not have been a more exciting or important time, Clark Cliffor would say, recalling events of 1947 and '48. 'I think it's one of the proudest moments in American history. What happened during that period was that Harry Truman and the United States saved the free world.'

[. . . .]

Their exhilaration derived in part from the tremenous urgency of the moment. Events moved rapidly. 'There was much to be done and little time to do it.' Truman would remember. Plans had to be conceived and clarified with minimum delay, imagination applied, decisions reached, and always with the realities and imponderables of politics weighed in the balance. The pressure was unrelenting. 'You don't sit down and take time to think through and debate ad nauseam all the points.' George Elsey would say, in response to latter-day critics. 'You don't have time. Later somebody can sit around for days and weeks and figure out how things might have been done differently. This is all very well and very interesting and quite irrelevant." (p. 554)
The debates of the law professors are "all very well and very interesting," and maybe they are relevant. The media and the pundits are surely keeping busy and having fun, and politicians are getting face time before We The People. Yet, we have elected one person to be responsible for using the power of our country to protect us from those who are our self-avowed enemies. None of these others have been elected to carry out that awesome responsibility. I suspect none of these others commands nearly all the knowledge that our President has about our enemies and our dangers, and I suspect none of these others has ever faced the awesome pressures of having responsibility for protecting We the People. Sitting around in committee meetings, standing before cameras, and punching keys on a keyboard are faily leisurely activities that individually (and perhaps even in aggregate) really seem to accomplish very little in the daily efforts of our country to defend ourselves from our enemies.

If the members of Congress are truly concerned about spying on those people the President believes are likely to be our enemies, then why not put up, or shut up? Is it not clear that the President should use the resources of our country to spy on those believed to be our enemies? Does the answer to this question depend on whether our enemies our already on our soil or not?

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