Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Editorial | Selling NSA Surveillance

Sickbed treachery

Give them this: Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and other members of the Bush administration inner circle will stop at almost nothing to pursue their "war on terror."

Among the things they regard as mere impediments to be brushed aside: the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions on human rights.

They promoted interrogation tactics at Guantanamo Bay that, at the very least, bordered on torture. Their justice-lite military tribunal procedures for the terror suspect trials are an affront to the nation's proud tradition of due process.

And the National Security Agency's years-long, warrantless spying on Americans' overseas phone conversations and e-mail messages may represent the biggest government privacy breach in U.S. history.

So do you think this crowd is going to let someone in a hospital gown get in its way? Not for a minute, as the nation learned this week from a one-time aide to former Attorney General John D. Ashcroft.

Former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey told a Senate hearing Tuesday how Gonzales (then White House counsel) and Bush chief of staff Andrew Card in 2004 barged into the hospital room of the heavily sedated Ashcroft, who'd just had emergency gallbladder surgery. And they weren't there to deliver flowers.

Their uninvited visit - over the protests of Comey, who was acting attorney general at the time - was to get Ashcroft to drop opposition to the NSA surveillance effort.

Even as Ashcroft lay in intensive care, he refused. Ashcroft is no ACLU member, so imagine what kind of proposed practices generated this kind of intense opposition from his Justice Department.

The White House's trust-us approach to running the spy program couldn't pass muster with Ashcroft (whose stock just rose with Comey's disclosures). He, as well as FBI Director Robert Mueller, threatened to resign; that's how much much they disapproved of the president's original version of the spy program.

As for Gonzales, the unseemly sickbed confrontation is one more reason, on top of many others, that he should resign. (Comey's willing testimony also shows what real congressional oversight can yield in the public interest - and shows how much the nation lost during the reign of the supine Republican Congress.)

Could it be any more clear that Gonzales does not have the independence and ethics demanded of the nation's chief law enforcement officer? He is and always has been just a White House consigliere who will bend rules and truth alike.

Last year, you may recall, Gonzales told Congress that there had "not been any serious disagreement about the [NSA] program." Will he soon have trouble remembering that statement, just as he claimed dozens of memory lapses when he testified about the politicized firing of eight U.S. attorneys?

Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) predicted that Gonzales would quit when the congressional inquiry ends. Let's hope he's right. Otherwise, impeachment may be the only option.