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COL Justifying domestic spying

Senate Judiciary Committee wants more answers

On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales played the role of Lucy opposite Sen. Arlen Specter's Ricky Ricardo.

Gonzales was brought before Specter's Senate Judiciary Committee because Specter believed Gonzales had some 'splainin' to do.

The explanation that the Republican-led committee wanted to hear was why the Bush administration believes it can conduct surveillance on Americans without a court order.

Senate Democrats, and some Republicans including Specter, have raised serious questions about the legal logic that the Bush administration used to arrive at its position.

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Federal law "has a forceful and blanket prohibition against any electronic surveillance without a court order," Specter said.

Gonzales argued that the administration has a constitutional authority to conduct the electronic surveillance of phone calls.

Gonzales' best explanation was that the administration was acting on authority given by Congress when it voted to give Bush the authority to take the country to war.

Specter said he questioned any such authority and called on the administration to have the spying program reviewed by a special court. Gonzales indicated he would not object to such a review.

It is clear the Bush administration wants to expand presidential authority to a circumference far larger than many in Congress or in the country could accept.

The administration has successfully muddied the waters and made it unclear whether what it is doing is legal. As such, two things need to happen.

First, Congress needs to put on the record whether it included in its war authorization the power to conduct domestic surveillance.

Two, agree that the administration's position should be reviewed by a special court as suggested by Specter and agreed to by Gonzales.

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Whether the president is operating outside the law is a troubling issue that needs resolution.

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