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U.S. judge criticizes president on wiretaps

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2007/06/26 10:48

A federal judge who used to authorize wiretaps in terrorist and espionage cases criticized President Bush's decision to order warrantless surveillance after the Sept. 11 attacks. Royce Lamberth, a district court judge in Washington, said Saturday it was proper for executive branch agencies to conduct such surveillance. "But what we have found in the history of our country is that you can't trust the executive," he said at the American Library Association's convention.

"We have to understand you can fight the war [on terrorism] and lose everything if you have no civil liberties left when you get through fighting the war," said Lamberth, appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

The judge disagreed with letting the executive branch alone decide which people to spy on in national security cases.

"The executive has to fight and win the war at all costs. But judges understand the war has to be fought, but it can't be at all costs," Lamberth said. "We still have to preserve our civil liberties. Judges are the kinds of people you want to entrust that kind of judgment to more than the executive."

Lamberth was named chief of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 1995 by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He held that post until 2002.

The court meets in secret to review applications from the FBI, the National Security Agency and other agencies for warrants to tap or search the homes of people in the U.S. in terrorist or espionage cases.

Shortly after Sept. 11, Bush authorized the NSA to spy on calls between people in the U.S. and suspected terrorists abroad without court warrants. The administration said it needed to act faster than the court could and that the president had constitutional authority to order warrantless domestic spying.


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