The Cape Cod Times of Hyannis (Mass.), Sept. 18, 2014
The world is a complicated and dangerous place, so decisions about war and peace must be carefully thought through.
President Barack Obama has deliberated on how best to respond to the threat posed by the Islamic State and decided it merited an expanded military commitment, a commitment we support.
But Americans must also be deliberative in considering Obama's call for war, asking questions and considering the ramifications. And Congress must deliberate as well, and accept its constitutional obligation to authorize military action.
We know from harsh experience that military adventures in the Middle East are fraught with peril. The region is inhospitable to American troops and suspicious of American intentions. The leaders of most of its warring factions can't be trusted.
Corruption is rife. Fanaticism is rampant. Iraqi and Syrian fighters on all sides are capable of a sickening brutality. It's just as easy to find video of beheadings committed by the Free Syrian Army — the "moderates" supported by the U.S. — as it is to find those committed by the extremists who call themselves the Islamic State.
Americans have earned the right to be skeptical of open-ended military commitments in that part of the world, and should have learned to ask some hard questions, like these:
The U.S. spent 10 years training the Iraqi army, only to see it make enemies of the Sunni people and retreat at the first sight of ISIS guns. Can we really turn a ragtag gang of rebels into a fighting force capable of taking on the Islamic State and turning the Syrian civil war? Just a few weeks ago, Obama called that "a fantasy." What changed? What if it doesn't work? What's Plan B? How do we define victory?
Obama has yet to fill in the details of his strategy. The coalition needed to carry it out is a work in progress. The most critical and most difficult task is to get the nations in the area most threatened by the Islamic State — Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Kurdish region of Iraq — to put aside other interests and rivalries and work together.
America can't be more committed to the safety of a tinderbox region than the people who live there.
Over the next days and weeks, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will take their proposal to potential allies and to the United Nations. They must also take it to the American people — and to the Congress.
For the past 13 years, U.S. presidents have directed military operations in a dozen countries under the authority granted by Congress in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and in advance of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Those were not blank checks for permanent war. They defined different enemies in different circumstances.
Congress must consider a new authorization, tailored to this situation and reflecting this president's commitments. The dismal reputation of the current Congress is well-deserved. It has been unproductive and paralyzed by petty politics. Many in Congress would rather the president make the tough decisions about war and peace on his own, especially during an election year.
But the crisis in Syria and Iraq won't wait until the elections are safely past, so Congress must act now to support the president's strategy.
The Caledonian Record of St. Johnsbury (Vt.), Sept. 19, 2014
The Fourth Amendment prohibits unwarranted searches and seizures of individuals by the government. The protection applies to the states by virtue of the 14th Amendment's due process clause.
Simply put, the government cannot search citizens without specific probable cause that a crime has been committed. Ratification of the 4th Amendment followed fears by our Founding Fathers that government could intrude into their lives much as the British troops did without cause.
In modern America, the sacred protection is under full frontal attack. Technology affords the government the capability to monitor and track Americans through a variety of digital surveillance tools. And as we learned through revelations last year, the government is employing these technologies, to great effect, in spying on everyone at all times. It maintains massive databases compiled of electronic correspondences made by United States citizens, facial recognition software, drone surveillance capabilities, and cellphone tracking.
The government claimed these chilling, never-before-seen powers, under authority granted it by the questionably constitutional Patriot Act and subsequent expansions. Those acts permit the federal government to spy unencumbered by the Fourth amendment. Despite hollow assurances to the contrary, no meaningful oversight exists over these programs.
The truth is that these initiatives are a startling overreach and empower our government with information with which it cannot, and should not, be entrusted. The programs are a digital equivalent of sending dogs into every American home to sniff for contraband. If these dogs catch a whiff, then they can get the FISA courts (or the IRS or the Justice Department) to issue a search warrant.
And the unchecked maintenance of national databases, profiling Americans, is eerily reminiscent of the Nazi Reichstag 'Gestapo Law' passed in 1936. That effort included the clause "Neither the instructions nor the affairs of the Gestapo will be open to review by the administrative courts." It became instantly possible for German citizens to be arrested, interrogated and incarcerated without any outside legal procedure. The crux of Adolf Hitler's rise to power were secret files he kept on the citizenry. Modern-day capabilities dwarf those of the Nazi regime.
The comparison isn't hyperbolic. Our intelligence communities have lied repeatedly to congress and the people about the use and reach of their networks. Like when NSA Director Keith B. Alexander last year said, "we don't hold data on U.S. citizens." Or when National Intelligence Director James Clapper, under oath, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the NSA does NOT "collect any type of data at all on ... Americans." Clapper should have been fired for this felonious deceit. Instead he was named by President Barack Obama to lead the "independent group" assigned to review privacy concerns and abuses within the surveillance programs.
Obama and intelligence chiefs say the powers are necessary to protect America from terrorist attacks. They repeatedly say that checks and balances on the illegal programs are provided by congressional and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court oversight. Most members of congress and federal judges dispute those claims outright. In fact, FISA Chief Judge Reggie Walton told The Washington Post that the secret court is extremely limited in its ability to provide any meaningful oversight. He said the justices have no way to independently verify anything they're told by the NSA. He says they just have to "trust" the government.
The truth, as Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director articulates, is "This dragnet program is surely one of the largest surveillance efforts ever launched by a democratic government against its own citizens. It is the equivalent of requiring every American to file a daily report with the government of every location they visited, every person they talked to on the phone, the time of each call, and the length of every conversation. The program goes far beyond even the permissive limits set by the Patriot Act and represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy."
We would just add that the dangers posed from an unchecked, omniscient, automatic surveillance state far outweigh those posed by random pockets of would-be terrorists. It's important context for anyone studying the Fourth Amendment during Constitution Week.