Laura defends hubby’s spying on Americans


    First lady Laura Bush, on an Africa junket, played the dutiful wife Sunday and defended her husband’s warrantless spying on Americans even as a top Republican Senator said the President’s actions could bring impeachment.

    “I think the American people
    expect the United States government and the president to do what they
    can to make sure there’s not an attack by foreign terrorists,” Mrs.
    Bush said just before landing in Ghana to begin a four-day stay in West
    Africa.

    President Bush is concerned that media disclosure of the
    program will cripple work to foil terrorists, she said. “I think he was
    worried that it would undermine our efforts by alerting terrorists to
    what our efforts are,” Mrs. Bush said.

    Bush’s secret order gave
    the clandestine National Security Agency permission to listen in on international
    phone calls and peek at e-mails of Americans.

    Administration officials claim a congressional
    resolution passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 _ a resolution
    that authorized him to use force in the fight against terrorism _ gave
    the president the authority to order the program.

    “I thought they were wrong,” Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on ABC’s “This Week,” adding that one of the possible remedies to Bush’s actions could be impeachment.

    Specter
    is one of several Republicans and Democrats who are questioning the
    administration’s authority to engage in domestic spying without court
    warrants. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has agreed to testify at
    hearings next month before the Judiciary Committee, which Specter
    chairs.

    Committee members, including GOP Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, have expressed doubt about Bush’s legal argument for the program.

    “We’re
    not going to give him a blank check, and just because we’re of the same
    party doesn’t mean we’re not going to look at this very closely,”
    Specter said. “And I moved immediately when the matter was disclosed to
    say that I would use my authority as chairman of the Judiciary
    Committee to have hearings, and we’re going to pursue it.”

    Speaking
    on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she
    too does not think Bush had the legal authority to order the program.
    She lamented the administration’s decision to bypass checks and
    balances provided by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

    Under
    the act, the attorney general can authorize a warrantless wiretap for
    up to 72 hours. But he must give the presiding judge of an 11-member
    FISA court a head’s up and justify the surveillance later. If the
    attorney general fails to do so, the court has discretion to notify the
    target of the surveillance.

    “If you’re going to wiretap
    Americans, if you may wiretap whomever an American might call, if
    you’re going to put that information in a database _ and I said if,
    because we don’t exactly know what happened _ follow the law, and do it
    legally,” Feinstein said.

    On her second trip to Africa, Mrs. Bush
    plans to join Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Monrovia, Liberia,
    on Monday to attend the inauguration of President-elect Ellen
    Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman president on the continent.

    “The
    centerpiece of this trip is women’s empowerment, with Ellen
    Johnson-Sirleaf as an example, a shining example for all of us, for
    women around the world,” she said.

    Mrs. Bush also is highlighting U.S.-backed education and HIV-AIDS programs in Ghana and Nigeria.

    In
    a 12-minute exchange with reporters on the plane, Mrs. Bush rebuffed
    criticism that too much of U.S. assistance for battling AIDS in Africa
    is focused on abstinence programs. She said abstinence, the use of
    condoms and being faithful to one’s sexual partner are all important in
    curbing the spread of disease.

    “I’m always a little bit irritated
    when I hear the criticism of abstinence, because abstinence is
    absolutely 100 percent effective in eradicating a sexually transmitted
    disease,” she said.

    In countries where girls feel obligated to comply with the wishes of men, girls need to know that abstinence is a choice.

    “When
    girls are not empowered, when girls are vulnerable … their chances of
    being able to negotiate their sexual life with their partners and to
    encourage or make their partners use a condom are very low,” she said.
    “So it’s really important for all three to be part of a successful
    eradication of AIDS, and that is … abstinence, be faithful to your
    partner, and then use condoms, correctly and consistently.”