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OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT BUSH:

Presidents, Like the Rest of Us, Need to Follow the Law

by SAM CONANT
We can and should wiretap terrorists. The problem has been your administration's insistence on doing it illegally, without checks and balances to prevent abusing the rights of innocent Americans.
Dear Mr. President:

Last week, a Federal judge ruled that your administration's policy of wiretapping without judicial review was unconstitutional and illegal. This ruling came as no surprise to most attorneys and Constitutional scholars. It has been obvious since this program was revealed that it stood in stark violation of the law.

Rather than abiding by the decision, you have vowed to overturn it. This position is unfortunate and unnecessary. Current law already permits wiretapping with court oversight to protect the rights of ordinary Americans while providing the tools we need to stop terrorism. Yet, your administration stubbornly refuses to follow the law.

I was personally insulted by your publicized claim that Americans who believe the wire-tapping and collection of personal information by NSA just do not understand the world today. To be sure, my understanding, gleaned over 67 years, including 35 years of military service in three of our armed forces and 30-plus years as a member and leader in my profession, is probably far different from yours. You have access to, and have the resources to interpret, information that is far more vast than I have. But, I assure you, I have a fairly solid understanding of what your administration's divisive attitudes and behaviors are resulting in throughout the world and our nation. And I am disheartened that you so easily dismiss so callously the collective intellect and understanding of a majority of U.S. citizens.

You have argued that we must choose between our freedoms and fighting terrorists. This is a false choice. We can and should wiretap terrorists. The problem has been your administration's insistence on doing it illegally, without checks and balances to prevent abusing the rights of innocent Americans. By following the Constitution and our laws, we can protect both our security and our American values.

We don't need to choose between security and freedom. I urge you to respect the court's decision. Presidents, like the rest of us, need to follow the law of the land
The author writes from Vermont.

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This story was published on August 22, 2006.