The United States Senate has subpoenaed the White House to release documents related to its surveillance of domestic terror suspects. The Senate Judiciary Committee asked Bush administration officials to provide the papers for an inquiry into the controversial spying program.
The administration has refused a series of requests to release the documents. President George W. Bush rejects claims he broke the law by ordering surveillance without first securing warrants. Initiated after the 9/11 attacks, the program enabled the government to monitor overseas e-mail and telephone communications of Americans suspected of ties to terrorists. While the President claims wartime powers allowed him to authorise surveillance without a warrant, critics contend he violated Americans' civil liberties.
The secret program became public in 2005 and is the focus of several lawsuits. "This subpoena authorization is a critical first step toward uncovering the full extent of the NSA's (National Security Administration's) illegal spying and the role that telecommunications companies like AT&T played in it," said Electronic Frontier Foundation Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "Considering that it's been almost six years since the NSA started spying on Americans without warrants and over a year since that spying was revealed publicly, these subpoenas are long overdue. It's high time for Congress to get to the bottom of this mess."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is suing AT&T for illegally assisting in the NSA spying. The government has asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the case, claiming that the lawsuit could expose state secrets. "Our case against AT&T includes evidence from a former employee that points to a massive spying program impacting millions of people -- a program far broader than the government has admitted to," said Bankston. "Americans deserve to know the truth about the NSA program."
Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters the committee's attempts to obtain information through testimony of administration officials have been met "with a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection. There is no legitimate argument for withholding the requested materials from this committee."
The White House has until July 18 to comply with the demand. A White House spokesman told the Associated Press that the White House is "aware of the committee's action and will respond appropriately. It's unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation." It's unfortunate that the Bush administration continues to choose the route of deliberate obfuscation and denial.