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WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today hosted a National Town Hall meeting on Presidents’ Day to discuss the controversy surrounding the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency. The panelists addressed questions about the legality and constitutionality of the controversial program at a public forum held at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
"The fundamental issue at stake with the warrantless NSA spying program is respect for the rule of law that is the cornerstone of our democracy," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "It is fitting that we gather at a university named for our nation’s first president, on President’s Day, to discuss presidential powers. Washington himself once remarked, ‘arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness.’ Sadly, it would appear that this administration is determined to use national security as a justification for an unbridled assault on our freedoms and liberty. Freedom must be protected when it is under attack - even in the context of national security."
At the ACLU’s National Town Hall, "Our Freedom at Risk: Spying, Secrets and Presidential Power," Romero was joined by John W. Dean, former White House counsel; Mary DeRosa, Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies at the CATO Institute; and Professor Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard. Marvin Kalb, Senior Fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy moderated the discussion.
Since the illegal surveillance program was made public last December, the White House and its surrogates have emphatically defended the administration’s warrantless domestic spying. However, numerous legal scholars, members of Congress, and organizations from across the political spectrum have raised serious concerns about this abuse of power. The ACLU noted that the non-partisan Congressional Research Service concluded that President Bush had exceeded his executive powers when he authorized the program.
The ACLU has filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the warrantless surveillance of Americans, and has urged Congress and the administration to fully and independently investigate which laws were broken in the commission of the illegal eavesdropping. The Senate Judiciary Committee has already held one hearing, where Attorney General Alberto Gonzales refused to answer straightforward questions from lawmakers and instead hewed to the White House’s public relations rhetoric. That committee is expected to hold at least two more public hearings.
"When presidents have overstepped the rule of law, history demonstrates how it undermined our core freedoms," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "We hope that Congress will assert its proper oversight role and demand accountability from the administration. The American people deserve no less from their government. Freedom and liberty must not be trumped by presidential power."
To view the ACLU's Town Hall, go to: www.aclu.org/presidentialpower
For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the warrantless NSA spying program, go to: www.aclu.org/nsaspying