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Grassroots for Gore is a team blog of volunteer bloggers. The blog is neither authorized by Mr. Gore nor is affiliated with any of the organizations that he is a part of. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual authors and commenters.

Tuesday, January 17

Gore spoke as a patriot

Lisa Brown of the American Constitution Society opened the event by asking Gore to enter, whereupon there was a standing ovation. After Gore sat down, Brown reminded the audience that Martin Luther King Jr. had been the victim of government spying. She emphasized that liberty is not a partisan issue and went on to introduce Bob Barr. Barr was scheduled to introduce Al Gore via video feed, but there was a technology glitch that spoiled the effect, so Michael Ostrolenk introduced Gore.

There was a thunderous applause and standing ovation as Gore rose and crossed to the podium. Gore began by thanking the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society. He acknowledged distinguished guests including Senator Feinstein.

Gore said that while he and Bob Barr disagreed on many things (general laughter) they did agree on the risk posed by an expansive executive. He said it was imperative that the rule of law be restored. Gore said, “That is why I have come to Constitution Hall and went on to say that Martin Luther King Day was an appropriate occasion for such remarks.

Gore reminded the audience that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been the victim of government spying, saying that the FBI had called King the “most dangerous and effective negro leader in the country” and vowed to “take him off his pedestal.” The Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) had been written as a response to those abuses. Gore said he had voted for FISA and that it had worked well for thirty years.

He said that "Yet, just one month ago, Americans awoke to the shocking news that in spite of this long settled law, the Executive Branch has been secretly spying on large numbers of Americans for the last four years and eavesdropping on large volumes of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and other Internet traffic inside the United States.” without any search warrants or any new domestic law.

Gore pointed out that Bush had gone out of his way to reassure Americans that constitutional protections were being preserved. In a slightly satiric voice Gore said, “But surprisingly, the President’s soothing statements turned out to be false." to general laughter. When the New York Times reported the abuses, the President brazenly asserted that he had those powers.

Gore observed that a President who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our founding fathers made a government of laws, not men. A President not bound by laws of the legislature or the check of the judiciary becomes a threat to our system of government.

Gore repeatedly pointed out that adherence to the rule of law strengthens our democracy and America. He pointed out that lack of openness and honesty had led to mistakes such as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the Iraq War. He concluded that America was “better off knowing the truth” to thunderous applause.

He said that, “the President and I agree that the threat of terror is all to real; where we disagree is that we have to break the law” to protect the country. Once the rule of law is broken, lawlessness grows, and democracy itself is threatened. Gore said, “Incredibly, the Administration claims instead that the surveillance was implicitly authorized when Congress voted to use force against those who attacked us on September 11th.” Gore reminded us that the Attorney General must have known such surveillance was illegal because he conferred with members of congress asking for new legislation as was turned down; so how can they now argue that their actions had been legal all along?

When Congress denied the President these powers, he secretly assumed them anyway.

These abuses are part of a larger pattern of disregard for the constitution. The President has assumed the power to seize and imprison any American, deny him access to a lawyer, even to imprison him the rest of his life without even bringing charges. And here, in a low, angry voice, Gore said, “No such right exists”.

Here Gore came to what I regard as the most moving part of his speech, which dealt with torture. I can only quote it directly:

At the same time, the Executive Branch has claimed a previously unrecognized authority to mistreat prisoners in its custody in ways that plainly constitute torture in a pattern that has now been documented in U.S. facilities located in several countries around the world.

Over 100 of these captives have reportedly died while being tortured by Executive Branch interrogators and many more have been broken and humiliated. In the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, investigators who documented the pattern of torture estimated that more than 90 percent of the victims were innocent of any charges.

This shameful exercise of power overturns a set of principles that our nation has observed since General Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary War and has been observed by every president since then – until now. These practices violate the Geneva Conventions and the International Convention Against Torture, not to mention our own laws against torture.

The President has also claimed that he has the authority to kidnap individuals in foreign countries and deliver them for imprisonment and interrogation on our behalf by autocratic regimes in nations that are infamous for the cruelty of their techniques for torture.

Some of our traditional allies have been shocked by these new practices on the part of our nation. The British Ambassador to Uzbekistan – one of those nations with the worst reputations for torture in its prisons – registered a complaint to his home office about the senselessness and cruelty of the new U.S. practice: “This material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful.”

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is “yes” then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can’t he do?

The Dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the Executive Branch’s claims of these previously unrecognized powers: “If the President has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution.”

The fact that our normal safeguards have thus far failed to contain this unprecedented expansion of executive power is deeply troubling. This failure is due in part to the fact that the Executive Branch has followed a determined strategy of obfuscating, delaying, withholding information, appearing to yield but then refusing to do so and dissembling in order to frustrate the efforts of the legislative and judicial branches to restore our constitutional balance.

For example, after appearing to support legislation sponsored by John McCain to stop the continuation of torture, the President declared in the act of signing the bill that he reserved the right not to comply with it.

When Gore said he reserved the right not to comply there was general laughter.

Gore reviewed the times in our history when we strayed from the Bill of Rights: The Alien and Sedition Act, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the Palmer Raids, the internment of Japanese Americans, and the COINTELPRO program; but observed in each case we had restored rights under the law and learned from the experience.

He described the expansion of executive power during the cold war and the increased danger the present administration poses by putting us on a war footing that will last, in the administration's words, “for the rest of our lives”. Gore then went on to describe the danger posed by new technology in eavesdropping and surveillance.

Gore repeatedly acknowledged the danger of terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. He went on to say that there is an inherent power in the Presidency to respond to threats that cannot be precisely legally defined. However, the existence of that inherent power cannot be used to justify a gross and excessive power grab lasting for years that produces a serious imbalance in the relationship between the executive and the other two branches of government.

This is not just another cycle of overreach and regret. The administration proponents have put for a, “theory of the unitary executive but which is more accurately described as the unilateral executive, threatens to expand the president’s powers until the contours of the constitution that the Framers actually gave us become obliterated beyond all recognition.” Bush has pushed this theory to the max and when added to the idea of perpetual war, “the implications of this theory stretch quite literally as far into the future as we can imagine.”

The common denominator is an instinct to intimidate and control.

Gore compared the current suppression on dissenting voices in the CIA with the previous suppression of dissenting voices in the FBI during Hoover’s era:

Ironically, that is exactly what happened to FBI officials in the 1960s who disagreed with J. Edgar Hoover’s view that Dr. King was closely connected to Communists. The head of the FBI’s domestic intelligence division said that his effort to tell the truth about King’s innocence of the charge resulted in he and his colleagues becoming isolated and pressured. “It was evident that we had to change our ways or we would all be out on the street…. The men and I discussed how to get out of trouble. To be in trouble with Mr. Hoover was a serious matter. These men were trying to buy homes, mortgages on homes, children in school. They lived in fear of getting transferred, losing money on their homes, as they usually did. … so they wanted another memorandum written to get us out of the trouble that we were in.

In a proper system the court acts as an umpire, the administration has attempted to thwart this by appointing compliant judges. The President’s domestic spying program is a direct challenge to the power of the courts.

Gore said the most serious challenge was to the legislature, which now operates as if it were completely subservient to the executive. Now members spend the majority of there time on raising money for thirty second commercials, “and they’re not the federalist papers” (general laughter). There have now been two or three generations of congress where who don’t know what a true oversight hearing looks like.

Gore said both Democrats and Republicans were responsible for failing to protest a clearly unconstitutional program. He said, “I call upon Democratic and Republican members of Congress today to uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution.” to a sustained, thunderous, standing ovation. Gore said over the ovation, “Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of government you’re supposed to be.” Again and again Gore spoke over applause, over even standing ovations. He was not a candidate. He spoke as an American patriot.

He reminded that audience that we the people are the key to the survival of American democracy. We must examine our own role in the decay of our democracy.

Gore spoke about the administration’s use of fear to short-circuit debate. He endorsed the words of Bob Barr who said, “The President has dared the American people to do something about it. For the sake of the Constitution, I hope they will.”

Gore called for:

A special counsel to investigate serious violations of the law by the President

Strengthened whistle-blower protection laws

Serious, not superficial, hearings into abuses of power by the President. To follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Under no circumstances should the patriot act be extended without proper constitutional protections.

Telecommunications companies must cease and desist any complicity with administration domestic spying without a proper warrant.

Freedom of the Internet must be preserved.

He said that there was reason for hope and he could feel it in the hall.

Gore closed by quoting Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:

Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Watching Gore speak you could only be reminded of Ben Franklin’s words upon being asked what sort of government the Constitutional Conventionhad produced, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Video Highlights of Gore's Speech

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Comments on "Gore spoke as a patriot"


Blogger chuckvw (@ 1/17/2006 9:16 PM) said:  

Thanks for this fine piece of reporting!


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