Gazette uncritically repeated Gonzales' claims regarding warrantless surveillance and torture

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An article in The Gazette of Colorado Springs uncritically reported U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' claims that the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program "protects citizens from terrorist attacks." But the article failed to mention reported skepticism about the program's effectiveness.

Reporting on a speech U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales delivered November 18 at the U.S. Air Force Academy, The Gazette of Colorado Springs uncritically reported his claims regarding the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program and failed to note that a number of law enforcement and intelligence officials reportedly have questioned the program's effectiveness. The November 19 article by reporter Jennifer Wilson reported that, according to Gonzales, the "warrantless surveillance program isn't damaging the civil rights of its citizens" and the program "protects citizens from terrorist attacks." However, the program's effectiveness has been called into question since its public disclosure in a December 16, 2005, New York Times article. The Gazette further reported Gonzales' statement that "[t]orture is not tolerated by this country on the battlefield or off" without noting that he and other administration attorneys wrote memos that, according to a December 31, 2004, Associated Press article, "said the president's wartime powers superseded anti-torture laws and treaties."

As Colorado Media Matters noted, The New York Times first revealed the warrentless surveillance program in 2005, reporting that, according to unnamed government officials, "President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying." The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), except as otherwise specifically provided, requires the government to obtain a warrant to conduct surveillance on U. S. citizens and lawful residents in the United States. On August 17, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the U.S. District Court in Detroit ruled that the warrantless surveillance program violates FISA, as well as the First and Fourth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and she ordered that the program be halted.

The Gazette reported that "America's warrantless surveillance program isn't damaging the civil rights of its citizens, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Air Force Academy cadets in Colorado Springs." The Gazette further reported:

Gonzales told the law and political science students that the surveillance doesn't invade Americans' privacy; it protects citizens from terrorist attacks. Critics who say otherwise are perpetuating myths, he said.

"Every day is Sept. 12 for us," Gonzales said.

Gonzales was the second administration official last week to attack a federal judge's ruling last August that the program was unconstitutional. Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday called the decision "an indefensible act of judicial overreaching."

But as Media Matters for America has noted, a January 17 New York Times article reported that "current and former officials" have stated that "virtually all" of the leads the National Security Agency (NSA) program generated "led to dead ends or innocent Americans."

The Times further reported, "More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, including some in the small circle who knew of the secret eavesdropping program and how it played out at the F.B.I., said the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive."

Similarly, a February 5 Washington Post article reported that unnamed "current and former government officials" told the paper that "[i]ntelligence officers who eavesdropped on thousands of Americans in overseas calls under authority from President Bush have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat." As the Post reported:

Fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year, according to an authoritative account, have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well. That step still requires a warrant from a federal judge, for which the government must supply evidence of probable cause.

The Bush administration refuses to say -- in public or in closed session of Congress -- how many Americans in the past four years have had their conversations recorded or their e-mails read by intelligence analysts without court authority. Two knowledgeable sources placed that number in the thousands; one of them, more specific, said about 5,000.

The Gazette also noted that Gonzales, in a reference to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, said that "[t]orture is not tolerated by this country on the battlefield or off." The Gazette, however, failed to report that Gonzales drew considerable criticism during his 2005 confirmation hearings over memos he and other administration attorneys wrote, which "said the president's wartime powers superseded anti-torture laws and treaties," according to the Associated Press. The December 31, 2004, AP article further noted, "Human rights advocates say those memos effectively condoned abuse and set the stage for the mistreatment of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. The Justice Department in June specifically disavowed an August 2002 memo to Gonzales that said cruel, inhumane and degrading acts may not be considered torture if they don't produce intense pain and suffering."

As Media Matters for America noted, the August 2002 memo relating to the use of torture, which Gonzales requested from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, amounts to a brief on the legality of torture. The memo lays out at least three arguments to justify abusive interrogation conduct: 1) for the conduct to be prohibited, the pain and suffering must be of an "extreme nature" (further providing that a "certain act may be cruel, inhuman, or degrading, but still not produce pain or suffering of the requisite intensity to fall within [the statute's] proscription against torture"); 2) a defendant violates the law only if he or she intends to inflict severe pain or harm (as opposed to simply knowing that such damage is likely); and 3) even if the acts the administration sought to justify rose to the level of torture, Congress lacks the constitutional authority to prevent the executive branch from carrying them out in a military context.

Gonzales' speech was part of the administration's effort to lobby for legislation authorizing the warrantless surveillance program. A November 11 AP article noted, "In speeches over the next few weeks, the Justice Department will launch a new campaign for the legislation [to authorize warrantless surveillance] by casting the choice as one between supporting the program or dropping it altogether -- and appearing soft on al-Qaida. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will make the eavesdropping program the focus of a Nov. 18 speech at the U.S. Air Force Academy."

From the November 19 Gazette article by Jennifer Wilson, "U.S. attorney general addresses wiretaps":

America's warrantless surveillance program isn't damaging the civil rights of its citizens, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Air Force Academy cadets in Colorado Springs.

Gonzales, who attended the academy for two years, spoke to about 700 cadets Saturday morning at Fairchild Hall.

Gonzales told the law and political science students that the surveillance doesn't invade Americans' privacy; it protects citizens from terrorist attacks. Critics who say otherwise are perpetuating myths, he said.

"Every day is Sept. 12 for us," Gonzales said.

Gonzales was the second administration official last week to attack a federal judge's ruling last August that the program was unconstitutional. Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday called the decision "an indefensible act of judicial overreaching."

Their attacks on the court order came as the administration urges the lame-duck Congress to approve legislation authorizing the warrantless surveillance. The bill's chances are in doubt because of Democratic opposition in the Senate, where 60 votes are required to end debate and vote.

The Bush administration has long argued that its warrantless surveillance program focuses on international calls involving suspected terrorists. It dismisses charges that it is an illegal tool because it bypasses federal law requiring a judge-issued warrant for such eavesdropping.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit struck down the warrantless surveillance program, saying it violated the rights to free speech and privacy and the constitutional separation of powers.

The Bush administration appealed the decision.

Gonzales said the program doesn't invade a person's privacy unless he or she is talking to "the enemy."

"The program does not violate any constitutional freedoms," he said.

America has followed similar surveillance measures during past wars, Gonzales said.

The Guantanamo Bay prison also is a necessary part of the war on terror, Gonzales said.

The prisoners can challenge accusations against them at military hearings, he said. Officials last week said war prisoners can't protest their charges in the U.S. court system.

These prisoners aren't treated like American criminals because what they do "transcends mere crime," Gonzales said.

Gonzales said the prisoners are treated fairly.

"Torture is not tolerated by this country on the battlefield or off," he said.

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