Trust the president who led us into Iraq on the basis of disinformation and misinformation? Trust the president who just weeks ago told us the National Security Agency program involved only international calls with al-Qaeda? (That explanation is now apparently "inoperative," to use Richard Nixon's famous phrase.).
The same president who said he'd fire anyone in the White House who helped leak the identity of Valerie Plame, the undercover CIA employee whose husband helped expose Bush's lies about Iraq's nuclear capacity. Now with Karl Rove admittedly in the center of the effort to discredit Wilson and reveal Plame, the president says he has no comment on a continuing criminal investigation. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me again and again and again, forget about it.
This isn't a routine Washington dustup. This concerns the trampling of the Fourth Amendment by the administration and the sale of our privacy by the phone companies (with the honorable exception of Qwest). And it isn't an isolated case. This president — and Vice President Cheney, who is the driving force behind this matter — believes the president acts above the law in the war on terror. He claims the right to make war without a congressional declaration.
He claims the right to surveil Americans without warrant, to arrest us without probable cause, to hold us without a hearing, to deny us the right to counsel or even to hear the charges against us if the government decides, on the basis of evidence they need not produce, to tag us as accomplices in the War on Terror.
Now, most Americans would gladly sacrifice some liberties if it would increase our security against another Sept. 11. President Bush counts on that feeling when he acts above the law. But the entire fabric of our freedom — our Constitution that he is sworn to defend, our liberties that the war on terror is supposed to protect — is woven in a system of checks and balances.
"No one man can take us to war." No intelligence operative, security agency, police official, jailor or president can lock us up without a warrant and imprison us without due process and review. Our system of liberties is not based on trusting the person in power. It is based on checks and balances, on independent review to curb the excesses of officials.
Here, all the checks and balances have been tossed aside. Qwest, the only honorable phone company, refused to cooperate with the NSA in this program without a warrant or permission from the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act Court. NSA refused to produce either; the FISA court was ignored.
The NSA and the administration have simply refused to supply information to the Congress, and the lame Republican Congress has refused to hold them accountable. When the Justice Department's independent Office of Professional Responsibility opened an investigation on the lawyers who signed off the program, the White House refused to provide the secrecy clearances needed to have the investigation go forward.
"Trust us," the president says, and then he insures that we have no choice but to trust him — since every legal check and balance is locked out.
Democrats should stand up and promise an en-depth series of investigations of this administration and its lawlessness.
We wage the war on al-Qaeda terrorists in defense of our freedoms. We had better make certain this administration isn't shredding those freedoms along the way.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.