Monday, January 16, 2006

Laura Bush Backs Domestic Spying Program As Criticism Continues on Capitol Hill

ABC News
Laura Bush Backs Domestic Spying Program
Laura Bush Backs Domestic Spying Program As Criticism Continues on Capitol Hill
The Associated Press

ACCRA, Ghana - First lady Laura Bush said Sunday that the U.S. government is right to eavesdrop on Americans with suspected ties to terrorists, but a top Senate Republican joined a chorus of lawmakers who think domestic spying is on shaky legal ground.

"I think the American people expect the United States government and the president to do what they can to make sure there's not an attack by foreign terrorists," Mrs. Bush said just before landing here to begin a four-day stay in West Africa.

President Bush is concerned that media disclosure of the program will cripple work to foil terrorists, she said. "I think he was worried that it would undermine our efforts by alerting terrorists to what our efforts are," Mrs. Bush said.

Bush's secret order gave the National Security Agency permission to listen in on international phone calls and peek at e-mails between Americans and suspected terrorists.

Administration officials claim a congressional resolution passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 a resolution that authorized him to use force in the fight against terrorism gave the president the authority to order the program.

"I thought they were wrong," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on ABC's "This Week."

Specter is one of several Republicans and Democrats who are questioning the administration's authority to engage in domestic spying without court warrants. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has agreed to testify at hearings next month before the Judiciary Committee, which Specter chairs.

Committee members, including GOP Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, have expressed doubt about Bush's legal argument for the program.

"We're not going to give him a blank check, and just because we're of the same party doesn't mean we're not going to look at this very closely," Specter said. "And I moved immediately when the matter was disclosed to say that I would use my authority as chairman of the Judiciary Committee to have hearings, and we're going to pursue it."

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she too does not think Bush had the legal authority to order the program. She lamented the administration's decision to bypass checks and balances provided by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Under the act, the attorney general can authorize a warrantless wiretap for up to 72 hours. But he must give the presiding judge of an 11-member FISA court a head's up and justify the surveillance later. If the attorney general fails to do so, the court has discretion to notify the target of the surveillance.

"If you're going to wiretap Americans, if you may wiretap whomever an American might call, if you're going to put that information in a database and I said if, because we don't exactly know what happened follow the law, and do it legally," Feinstein said.

On her second trip to Africa, Mrs. Bush plans to join Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Monrovia, Liberia, on Monday to attend the inauguration of President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman president on the continent.

"The centerpiece of this trip is women's empowerment, with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as an example, a shining example for all of us, for women around the world," she said.

Mrs. Bush also is highlighting U.S.-backed education and HIV-AIDS programs in Ghana and Nigeria.

In a 12-minute exchange with reporters on the plane, Mrs. Bush rebuffed criticism that too much of U.S. assistance for battling AIDS in Africa is focused on abstinence programs. She said abstinence, the use of condoms and being faithful to one's sexual partner are all important in curbing the spread of disease.

"I'm always a little bit irritated when I hear the criticism of abstinence, because abstinence is absolutely 100 percent effective in eradicating a sexually transmitted disease," she said.

In countries where girls feel obligated to comply with the wishes of men, girls need to know that abstinence is a choice.

"When girls are not empowered, when girls are vulnerable ... their chances of being able to negotiate their sexual life with their partners and to encourage or make their partners use a condom are very low," she said. "So it's really important for all three to be part of a successful eradication of AIDS, and that is ... abstinence, be faithful to your partner, and then use condoms, correctly and consistently."