Monday, June 26, 2006

GOP Rep. Wants to Charge NY Times with Espionage

Last Friday, a New York Times article revealed that the Bush administration was responsible for reviewing bank data without a subpoena or a warrant under the premise of "fighting terrorism".

This morning, Rep. Peter King "urged the Bush administration Sunday to seek criminal charges against The New York Times for reporting on a secret financial-monitoring program used to trace terrorists."

On Fox News, King said:

"The time has come for the American people to realize, and the New York Times to realize, we’re at war and they can’t be on their own deciding what to declassify, what to release. If Congress wants to work on this privately, that’s one thing. But for them to, on their own, for the editor of the New York Times to say that he decides it’s in the national interest -- no one elected them to anything."

New York Times editor Keller responds to this claim the best:

"Our default position — our job — is to publish information if we are convinced it is fair and accurate, and our biggest failures have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough. [...] Since September 11, 2001, our government has launched broad and secret anti-terror monitoring programs without seeking authorizing legislation and without fully briefing the Congress. Most Americans seem to support extraordinary measures in defense against this extraordinary threat, but some officials who have been involved in these programs have spoken to the Times about their discomfort over the legality of the government's actions and over the adequacy of oversight. We believe The Times and others in the press have served the public interest by accurately reporting on these programs so that the public can have an informed view of them.

"It's not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective, but the story cites strong arguments from proponents that this is the case. While some experts familiar with the program have doubts about its legality, which has never been tested in the courts, and while some bank officials worry that a temporary program has taken on an air of permanence, we cited considerable evidence that the program helps catch and prosecute financers of terror, and we have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don't know about it."

I find it shameful that the government would feel the need to prosecute reporters and editors for releasing information that would allow readers to make an educated decision on a secret (and possibly highly illegal) program that affects millions of Americans daily. But if congress still feels the need to punish someone over this breech of information, shouldn't they seek out the original source of the leak, rather than charge the newspaper that chose to report it?

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