Through the justifications it has put forth for warrentless wiretapping, the Bush administration is almost literally crossing the Rubicon, beginning the process of transforming the United States from a republic into to a presidential dictatorship.
The warrantless wiretapping is dangerous, illegal and unconstitutional by itself. These are criminal acts by the President, and in and of themselves warrant impeachment and removal from office (whether or not impeachment is politically practical under a Republican Congress.)
But the Administration's feeble rationales justifying this program are even more dangerous. Bush and his surrogates claim that the President has the constitutional right, as part of his inherent powers as Commander-In-Chief during a time of war (an endless war in this case) to do anything he chooses to do if he believes it protects national security. In short, Bush claims the power of a dictator.
Where could this power grab lead? President Bush and his surrogates have proclaimed many times that opposition to the Iraq war is dangerous, demoralizes the troops, encourages the enemy, and threatens America's chances for victory. If Bush believes that opposition to the war threatens national security, why doesn't he have the right to act against opponents to the Iraq war to protect national security? Apparently government agents have already spied on a small Quaker peace group. Why then shouldn't Bush have the power to wiretap the phones of Iraq war opponents from Rep. Murtha to Cindy Sheehan? Why shouldn't he have the right to infiltrate anti-war groups with government informants? Why can't he place agent provocateurs in anti-war groups to incite violent demonstrations in order to discredit the anti-war movement which is harming national security? Why can't he burglarize the offices of psychiatrists of leading anti-war figures to find information with which to discredit them? Why can't he break into the offices of the Democratic National Committee?
Wait a second; the government has already done all of these things in the recent past. It was called Watergate and the COINTELPRO Program (which lasted from 1956-71. The founding document of COINTELPRO directed FBI agents to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" groups and individuals that opposed U.S. government policy. The COINTELPRO program was investigated by a bi-partisan Senate Select Committee whose final report stated that the FBI "conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence." The Senate investigation led, among other things, to the passage of the FISA act which required a warrant from a special court in order for the government to place domestic wiretaps.
The Administration's rationale for warrantless wiretapping could justify the reinstatement of any or all of the illegal activities of the old COINTELPRO Program and the Watergate burglars. Even Nixon's lawyers never claimed a constitutional power for the President to act unilaterally in war time without regard to the Congress and the Courts (although Nixon once famously said, "If the President does it it's not illegal.") Bush provides the rationale to go even further. Since the President has the right to take all actions he thinks necessary to protect national security, why couldn't he censor newspapers that oppose the Iraq War? Why couldn't he arrest Iraq war opponents, and hold them without charges and without the right to a trial until he decides that the "War on Terror" is over? Taken to the extreme, why couldn't he torture Iraq war opponents based on his signing statement to the McCain anti-torture Amendment which states that the President can bypass this law if he believes doing so protects national security?
I'm not saying that these things will happen. I'm saying that Bush's theory of President's unilateral war time powers could justify such actions and more.
The Bush administration's legal theories are an invitation for denying Americans their basic democratic rights. The American people must be shown the danger. This should not be a Democratic vs. Republican issue nor a liberal vs. conservative issue. It should be an issue for all Americans who care about the survival of our republic. If Bush can't be stopped now from wiretapping Americans without a warrant, then this could be the beginning of the end of democracy in America as we know it. Hopefully Congress and the courts, with pressure from the American people, will overrule Bush's assertion of dictatorial power.