"The critical question before the Committee was to determine how the fundamental liberties of the people can be maintained in the course of the Government's effort to protect their security. The delicate balance between these basic goals of our system of government is often difficult to strike, but it can, and must, be achieved."
That is not a statement from a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which last Monday heard testimony from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the Bush administration's efforts to monitor the conversations of terrorist suspects. It is from the introduction to the 1976 "Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities," sometimes referred to as the Church Committee after its chairman, Sen. Frank Church, Idaho Democrat.
The New York Times recalled those "glorious" (for the left) days by reprinting a picture of Church talking to reporters during the 1975 hearings into the misuse of intelligence gathering by the Nixon administration. Though Nixon used government agencies to spy on his domestic political enemies, the Times wants its readers to believe that what the Bush administration is doing by monitoring phone calls and other communications between terrorist suspects outside the country, and those inside, is similar behavior. What the newspaper fails to acknowledge is that the findings of the Church Committee led to the dismantling of many useful intelligence-gathering operations, thus limiting our ability to gather precisely the type of intelligence that would have been useful in stopping 9/11.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee denied they are trying to write a bill of rights for terrorists. Ranking Member Patrick Leahy of Vermont assured his colleagues and those watching C-SPAN, which carried the hearing live, that he wants to do everything possible to find terrorists before they kill more of us. He just wants to make sure it is done "legally." Democrats appeared not to accept Gonzales' testimony that the surveillance is being done legally, preferring to make political points rather than capture and defeat the enemy.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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