Americans want courts, not Bush, to approve wiretaps

A majority of Americans want the Bush administration to get court
approval before eavesdropping on people inside the United States, even
if those calls might involve suspected terrorists, an AP-Ipsos poll

Over the past three weeks, President Bush and top aides
have defended the electronic monitoring program they secretly launched
shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, as a vital tool to protect the nation
from al-Qaida and its affiliates.

Yet 56 percent of respondents
in an AP-Ipsos poll said the government should be required to first get
a court warrant to eavesdrop on the overseas calls and e-mails of U.S.
citizens when those communications are believed to be tied to terrorism.

Agreeing with the White House, some 42 percent of those surveyed do not believe the court approval is necessary.

at war,” Bush said during a New Year’s Day visit to San Antonio. “And
as commander in chief, I’ve got to use the resources at my disposal,
within the law, to protect the American people. … It’s a vital,
necessary program.”

According to the poll, age matters in how
people view the monitoring. Nearly two-thirds of those between age 18
to 29 believe warrants should be required, while people 65 and older
are evenly divided.

Party affiliation is a factor, too. Almost
three-fourths of Democrats and one-third of Republicans want to require
court warrants.

Cynthia Ice-Bones, 32, a Republican from
Sacramento, Calif., said knowing about the program made her feel a bit
safer. “I think our security is so important that we don’t need
warrants. If you’re doing something we shouldn’t be doing, then you
ought to be caught,” she said.

But Peter Ahr of Caldwell, N.J., a
religious studies professor at Seton Hall University, said he could not
find a justification for skipping judicial approvals. Nor did he
believe the administration’s argument that such a step would impair
terrorism investigations.

“We’re a nation of laws. … That means
that everybody has to live by the law, including the administration,”
said Ahr, 64, a Democrat who argues for checks and balances. “For the
administration to simply go after wiretaps on their own without anyone
else’s say-so is a violation of that principle.”

The eavesdropping is run by the secretive National Security Agency, the government’s code-makers and code-breakers.

Franklin, a political science professor at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, said most people think that the eavesdropping is
aimed at foreign terrorists, even when the surveillance is conducted
inside the country.

“They are willing to give the president quite
a lot of leeway on this when it comes to the war on terror,” said
Franklin, who closely follows public opinion.

Some members of
Congress have raised concerns about the president’s actions, but none
of those lawmakers who have been briefed on the program has called for
its immediate halt.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, has promised
hearings this year. Five members of the Senate Intelligence Committee,
including GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska,
have called for immediate inquiries.

On top of that, a memorandum
circulated Friday from two legal analysts at the Congressional Research
Service concluded that the justification for the monitoring may not be
as strong as the administration has argued.

The NSA’s activity “may present an exercise of presidential power at its lowest ebb,” the 44-page memo said.

based his eavesdropping orders on his presidential powers under the
Constitution and a September 2001 congressional resolution authorizing
him to use military force in the fight against terrorism.

administration says the program is reviewed every 45 days and that Bush
personally reauthorizes it. His top legal advisers argue its
justification is sound.

The issue is full of grays for some
people interviewed for the poll, including homebuilder Harlon Bennett,
21, a political independent from Wellston, Okla. He does not think the
government should need warrants for suspected terrorists.

“Of course,” he added, “we all could be suspected terrorists.”


Associated Press writers Will Lester and Elizabeth White contributed to this report.


On the Net:


© 2006 The Associated Press