After the recent and startling testimony by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, detailing the internal conflicts within the Department of Justice itself over the legality of President Bush’s illegal NSA spying program, we’ve renewed our call for the release of the documents and records pertaining to the program. The case is currently pending before the Honorable Judge Henry H. Kennedy of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
We first filed Freedom of Information Act requests for these documents within days of the December 2005 reports that President Bush had repeatedly authorized illegal surveillance of Americans. The ACLU also filed a challenge to the surveillance program itself, which we won in federal court and is now awaiting a decision on the government’s appeal. The National Security Archive and the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed similar FOIA requests. But our requests were basically ignored until we filed lawsuits later that winter to enforce our rights under the FOIA.
We believe that if we could look at the documents and records underlying the surveillance program that we could add some needed clarity to the dialogue. And the government is obligated to provide these documents and records under the FOIA unless it can show that we are not entitled to them under a limited number of narrow exceptions to the FOIA.
The government’s response to our FOIA requests and lawsuits has been astonishing. Their initial steps were to give us documents already in the public domain and tell us that the rest was secret: so secret, in fact, that the government would not even describe the individual documents (which it is required to do), tell us how many documents or records were at issue, or how long each of those documents was. But if the surveillance program was so secret then why was it discussed openly when it suited the administration? It seems clear that the Bush administration is using national security as a pretext to hide evidence of unlawful activity.
The public debate over the Bush administration’s illegal actions has raged unabated since late 2005. For its part, the Bush administration has responded with a full-fledged public relations campaign to convince the public that warrantless surveillance is okay. President Bush has publicly acknowledged, described and defended the surveillance program. As have Vice-President Dick Cheney, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and many other administration officials.
We’ve previously asked the Court to review the documents itself, in closed chambers, and decide for itself whether the government should be able to conceal information the public needs to understand and evaluate the Administration’s program. It is time for the Bush administration to come clean. The issues are staggering in scope and importance. The President had authorized spying on Americans without judicial oversight and in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that explicitly requires judicial oversight. We, along with the rest of America, want answers.