I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, January 09, 2006

If this isn't lying, what is it?

Among Bush followers, Mark Steyn is one of the most revered columnists around. The minute he has a new column up, they all run around celebrating it as the latest work of towering genius.

Not coincidentally, he's also one of the most dishonest commentators around. Here is what he said yesterday in his Chicago Sun Times column about the NSA scandal:

It shouldn't be necessary to point out the obvious. But, unmoored from reality, wafting happily into fantasy land safe in the hermetically sealed Democrat-media bubble, Sen. Barbara Boxer and her colleagues are apparently considering impeaching the president for eavesdropping on al Qaida calls made to U.S. phone numbers. Surely, even Karl Rove can't get that lucky.

Everyone knows by now that the objections to Bush's NSA program have nothing to do with opposition to eavesdropping on Al Qaeda, but are instead based upon the fact that in ordering this eavesdropping, Bush is breaking the law, because the eavesdropping is conducted in secret and without the judicial oversight required by FISA. Surely Steyn knows this, too. But rather than address the argument, he simply lies and says that the objections are based on the belief that the U.S. shouldn't be eavesdropping on Al Qeada.

That's the great intellectual hero of the Bush followers. And the celebration dances over this column are already underway.

Here is Steyn, in the same column, using the same cheap tactic some more:

By the way, I'd love to see the witness list for that trial: Muhammad al-Jihad testifying that a week before he blows up a Bali nightclub he always makes a perfectly innocent call to his cousin in Milwaukee to ask how the kids are; Abu Musad al-Zarqawi testifying that he only called Howard Dean to issue a formal complaint about congressional Democrats stealing his rationalizations. Etc. . .

See, Howard Dean and Al Qaeda terrorists chat on the phone with one another because the Democrats share the same world-view as Al Qaeda. And that's why Democrats don't want any eavesdropping on their Al Qaeda friends. Piercing brilliance, that is.

And, if you can stand it, there's still more:

The practical effect of the Dems' approach is to extend the protections of the U.S. Constitution to any dodgy character anywhere on the planet who has a U.S. telephone number in his Rolodex. Indeed, given that perfectly ordinary cell phones can be used almost anywhere -- this week, I spoke to an American in London by dialing his Washington cell number -- if the Democrats have their way, all terrorist cells in Europe or Pakistan would have to do to put themselves beyond the reach of U.S. intelligence is get a New Jersey-based associate to place a bulk order for Verizon cell phones.

This isn't a hypothetical situation. Consider Iyman Faris, a naturalized American citizen also known as Mohammad Rauf and nailed by U.S. intelligence through the interception of foreign-U.S. communications. He was convicted in 2003 for doing the legwork on an al Qaida scheme to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. . .

Do you want Iyman Faris in jail? Or do you think he should have the run of the planet until he's actually destroyed the bridge and killed hundreds of people? Say, the Golden Gate Bridge just as you're driving across after voting for Barbara Boxer and congratulating yourself on your moral superiority.

So that's where we stand four years after Sept. 11. The arthritic $44 billion intelligence bureaucracy is insisting it still needs another five to 10 years to have a clandestine service capable of infiltrating al Qaida operations in the field, but, while we're waiting, don't think of using that $44 billion to keep tabs on their phone calls, because the Dems will impeach you.

So the "Dems" -- presumably along with the growing number of Republicans who oppose Bush's lawless NSA program -- are against eavesdropping on Al Qaeda and want the terrorists to be able to blow up bridges without us knowing about it in advance. That's what this scandal is about. The Democrats are angry because they are opposed to eavesdropping on Al Qaeda terrorists. By contrast, George Bush believes in eavesdropping on the terrorists. That's the difference of opinion. Mark Steyn just spit out a whole newspaper column based on that premise.

And he's not alone among columnists whom Bush supporters revere. Here is Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post expressing his "understanding" of what the NSA scandal is about:

Administration critics, political and media, charge that by ordering surveillance on communications of suspected al Qaeda agents in the United States, the president clearly violated the law. Some even suggest that Bush has thereby so trampled the Constitution that impeachment should now be considered.

Newspapers should absolutely include columns defending Bush's NSA eavesdropping program. But these columns are not that. This is just out-and-out lying. Nobody has been arguing that the Government should not eavesdrop on Al Qaeda, and yet these columns, with transparent falsity, claim that that is the position of Bush opponents on this issue.

When Bush supporters made comments like this in the first couple of days after the Times disclosed the NSA program - when they expressed bewilderment that anyone would be against eavesdropping on Al Qaeda - one could give them the benefit of the doubt and charitably assume that they were just confused and did not yet understand what the objections were. But we are well enough into the scandal now, and people like Mark Steyn and Charles Krauthammer know full well what the scandal is about. What else can it be called -- other than out-and-out lying -- for them to continue to characterize this scandal as resting on opposition to eavesdropping on Al Qaeda?

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