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.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Kansas Project

(updated below - updated again)

We are beginning our state-based NSA campaign today by targeting six or seven of the most important newspapers in Kansas, to which the individuals who are participating will submit Op-Ed pieces and Letters to the Editor (everyone is still encouraged to participate). The principal goal is to urge an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee and its Chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, into the NSA scandal. A little bit later today, Jane Hamsher will post details about the logistics and information for submissions, and I will provide the link here when her post is available (update: link is furnished below in the Update section).

The letters and editorials should be individually formulated and expressed (and also should bear a Kansas address), but, to ensure that we have a clear and focused message, the following points can be emphasized by those writing letters and Op-Ed pieces (if there are any suggested additions or revisions, please leave them in Comments):

  • Independent of one’s political party, it is vitally important that Congress, and specifically the Senate Intelligence Committee, fulfill its important oversight duties by holding hearings on the scope and reach of the Administration’s warrantless NSA eavesdropping on American citizens. Americans deserve an investigation by our Congress into this eavesdropping, which took place without any oversight, so that we are informed about what our government did and can make reasoned judgments about these important issues.

  • Concern over the legality and necessity of warrantless eavesdropping on Americans cuts across party and ideological lines. Numerous prominent conservatives -- including Grover Norquist, George Will, former Rep. Bob Barr, and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback –- have expressed serious objections to the notion that the Government should eavesdrop on American citizens without any oversight at all. The conflicts raised by warrantless eavesdropping are not partisan or ideological, but instead, implicate the most important constitutional safeguards on which our system of government is based.

  • We all favor strong and aggressive eavesdropping against terrorists. The question which requires Congressional scrutiny is why the Administration eavesdropped without the judicial oversight which the American people, through our Congress, required by law. The purpose of this law was to ensure that the Government cannot abuse its eavesdropping powers (as it has in the past) when eavesdropping on American citizens. Because the Administration eavesdropped without this judicial oversight, only Congressional hearings can enable Americans to learn whether the eavesdropping was properly conducted.

  • Regardless of one’s political orientation, the NSA program has provoked intense controversy among Americans. Recent polls show that half of all Americans believe that the program violates the law and is wrong. Thus, on a matter of such importance which is dividing our country, both sides in the debate would be well-served by bringing facts to light, a result which can be achieved only if the Senate Intelligence Committee holds hearings on these matters.

  • As demonstrated by this week’s controversy over President Bush’s decision to turn operations of some of this country’s most important ports over to the United Arab Emirates, Congress has a critically important role to play in exercising oversight over the Executive branch, even in areas of national security. Our nation was founded on a system of checks and balances because even well-intentioned political officials are prone to errors in judgment.

    By ensuring that the branches of Government oversee and check one another, our Founders created a system where errors in judgment and abuses are minimized. Particularly on matters as important as defending our country from terrorist threats and eavesdropping on Americans by the government, those core American principles compel oversight and hearings by our Congress.

  • Numerous Republicans and Democrats have called for the Senate Intelligence Committee to hold hearings. Sen. Roberts made public commitments to hold such hearings, which can be structured so as to prevent disclosure of operational details which should remain secret. The American people are entitled to be informed about these matters, and we urge Sen. Roberts to fulfill his duties of Congressional oversight and hold meaningful hearings on this matter.

UPDATE: Jane has now posted the contact information for Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor here. It was compiled by the tireless Thersites at Vichy Democrats, who has some more thoughts here. Right-wing radio expert Taylor Marsh has some creative ideas about how to use the Portgate controversy to make these NSA points more effectively, particularly when calling into talk radio.

Finally, in response to some (understandable and common but, in my view, ultimately misguided and quite harmful) scepticism about campaigns such as this, I explain my reasons here why I think projects like this one are worthwhile despite the obvious obstacles.

UPDATE II: Josh Rosenau is a Kansan blogger and a graduate student at the University of Kansas. He has some excellent thoughts that really are worth reading on the NSA scandal generally, along with suggestions for which newspapers to contact and some additional ideas about how to make these points effectively. He also says this:

If you've moved out of Kansas, but want to write to the local paper where you used to live, that's just fine. Mention where you used to be. If you aren't from Kansas and don't want to be left out, either write to your own local paper, or think creatively about a connection you have to Kansas.

Josh makes an important point. What matters is not necessarily that you live in Kansas right this minute, but that there be some Kansas connection, such as a Kansas address, reflected in the letters and Op-Ed pieces.

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