President Bush gave a terrific speech at Kansas State yesterday. For one thing, he was very funny. His visibly high spirits suggest to me that he thinks events are moving his way. You can read the speech in its entirety, along with an entertaining question and answer session, here. This is what the President said about the NSA international surveillance program:
I made the decision to do the following things because there’s an enemy that still wants to harm the American people. What I’m talking about is the intercept of certain communications emanating between somebody inside the United States and outside the United States; and one of the numbers would be reasonably suspected to be an al Qaeda link or affiliate. In other words, we have ways to determine whether or not someone can be an al Qaeda affiliate or al Qaeda. And if they’re making a phone call in the United States, it seems like to me we want to know why.
This is a — I repeat to you, even though you hear words, “domestic spying,” these are not phone calls within the United States. It’s a phone call of an al Qaeda, known al Qaeda suspect, making a phone call into the United States. I’m mindful of your civil liberties, and so I had all kinds of lawyers review the process. We briefed members of the United States Congress, one of whom was Senator Pat Roberts, about this program. You know, it’s amazing, when people say to me, well, he was just breaking the law — if I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress? (Laughter and applause.)
Hmm, good point. Bush continued:
Federal courts have consistently ruled that a President has authority under the Constitution to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance against our enemies. Predecessors of mine have used that same constitutional authority.
As I keep saying, the President’s constitutional power is the key point.
Recently there was a Supreme Court case called the Hamdi case. It ruled the authorization for the use of military force passed by the Congress in 2001 — in other words, Congress passed this piece of legislation. And the Court ruled, the Supreme Court ruled that it gave the President additional authority to use what it called “the fundamental incidents of waging war” against al Qaeda.
I’m not a lawyer, but I can tell you what it means. It means Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people, but it didn’t prescribe the tactics. It’s an — you’ve got the power to protect us, but we’re not going to tell you how. And one of the ways to protect the American people is to understand the intentions of the enemy. I told you it’s a different kind of war with a different kind of enemy. If they’re making phone calls into the United States, we need to know why — to protect you. (Applause.)
I caught this part of the speech on CNN over the lunch hour yesterday. CNN had a banner across the bottom of the screen that would summarize what the President was saying. CNN played it straight, except when President Bush was talking about the international surveiillance program. Then, the CNN banner contained a running rebuttal to the President.