Daily Sentinel editorial echoed myths that Democrats called for a "precipit[ous] U.S. withdrawal" from Iraq and oppose foreign surveillance


A September 10 editorial in The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction parroted the Republican talking point that Democrats in Congress support a "precipitous withdrawal" from Iraq and misleadingly asserted that Democrats and New York Times editorialists "regularly shriek" about U.S. surveillance of communications between people located abroad. In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, Democratic leaders back a gradual withdrawal from Iraq; further, Democrats and the Times have endorsed surveillance of foreign-to-foreign communications.

In a September 10 editorial, The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction suggested that Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) favor "a precipitate U.S. withdrawal" from Iraq. In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, Reid and other Democratic leaders have publicly advanced gradual withdrawal plans and have stated specifically that Democrats are not calling for a precipitous withdrawal. The Daily Sentinel further misleadingly asserted that "many Democrats in Congress and the editorialists at The New York Times regularly shriek" that surveillance of foreign-to-foreign communications "constitute[s] an unconscionable infringement upon personal privacy rights." But Democrats and the Times have objected to illegal warrantless wiretapping of people in the United States while explicitly endorsing surveillance of foreign-to-foreign communications, as Media Matters also has noted.

The Daily Sentinel editorial began: "Tuesday marks the sixth anniversary of 9/11 and, not surprisingly, the news the past several days has been redolent of developments from the warfront that radical Islam instigated against the United States and the entirety of the 'infidel' West." It later repeated the Republican talking point that Democrats in Congress have advocated an abrupt or precipitous withdrawal from Iraq:

Fortunately, there are Democrats in Congress like former Fruita resident and Washington state Congressman Brian Baird. Although clearly opposed to the decision by the Bush administration to oust Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, Baird is among a principled group of Democrats in Congress willing to acknowledge progress from the surge and warn against the consequences of a precipitate U.S. withdrawal. Would that there were more Democrats like Baird, and less like Reid.

It's certainly to be hoped that after Petraeus submits his report to Congress, the vast majority of Americans recognize that this is no time for surrender.

President Bush has used the term "precipitous withdrawal" to describe proposals for a timetable for withdrawal on multiple occasions, as has Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Moreover, Vice President Dick Cheney said on August 6 that "this is no time to lose heart and make a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, as some in Congress are demanding." In addition, a document on House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-OH) website asks, "What would Iraq look like if the Democrats' plan for precipitous withdrawal were implemented?"

In fact, as Media Matters has noted, Democrats have advocated several plans -- including at least one supported by some Republicans -- that call for a "gradual" withdrawal or a "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops from Iraq, with some troops remaining in Iraq for specified missions after the withdrawal of most combat troops. Moreover, Reid and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), co-sponsor of a leading proposal dealing with troop levels in Iraq, have both specifically stated that Democrats are not calling for a precipitous withdrawal. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), appearing on the August 26 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, argued: "No one in a responsible position in government is saying that we should pull the plug in Iraq and have a precipitous withdrawal."

The Daily Sentinel editorial also referred to reports that German authorities disrupted a planned attack against Americans in Stuttgart after U.S. intelligence shared an intercept of a suspicious communication between two individuals outside of the United States:

In Germany last week, law enforcement authorities arrested three Islamic terrorists and charged them with conspiring to wreak mass murder, terror and mayhem by plotting massive bombing attacks on the Ramstein U.S. Air Base and Frankfurt International Airport. German officials said that had the planned attacks not been thwarted, civilian and military casualties could have numbered into the thousands. As many as 10 more suspected co-conspirators have yet to be apprehended.

It should not go unnoticed that German authorities said they were able to disrupt the planned terrorist attacks because U.S. intelligence officials shared information with their German counterparts -- information that was collected through electronic surveillance methods that many Democrats in Congress and the editorialists at The New York Times regularly shriek constitute an unconscionable infringement upon personal privacy rights. The German terrorist plotters were arrested, according to news reports, after U.S. intelligence personnel managed to eavesdrop on the cell-phone conversations between two of the suspects after they left a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

Contrary to the Daily Sentinel's assertion, Democrats and the Times both have made clear that while the surveillance of individuals on U.S. territory requires a warrant, warrantless surveillance of foreign-to-foreign communications is appropriate. As Media Matters noted, the Times reported on August 1 that "Democratic leaders have expressed a new willingness to work with the White House to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA] to make it easier for the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on some purely foreign telephone calls and e-mail. Such a step now requires court approval." The requirement of court approval for some such purely foreign communications arose after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court secretly ruled earlier this year that under FISA, individual warrants would be necessary to monitor communications between persons abroad that happened to be routed through equipment located in the United States, as the Los Angeles Times reported August 2.

According to an August 3 New York Times editorial:

The government may freely monitor communications when both parties are outside the United States, but must get a warrant aimed at a specific person for communications that originate or end in this country. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that the court that issues such warrants recently ruled that the law also requires that the government seek such an individualized warrant for purely foreign communications that, nevertheless, move through American data networks.

The New York Times editorial supported fixing the "anachronism" in FISA, but opposed broader reforms urged by the Bush administration.

Instead of asking Congress to address this anachronism, as it should, the White House sought to use it to destroy the 1978 spying law. It proposed giving the attorney general carte blanche to order eavesdropping on any international telephone calls or e-mail messages if he decided on his own that there was a "reasonable belief" that the target of the surveillance was outside the United States. The attorney general's decision would not be subject to court approval or any supervision.

Further, The New York Times endorsed proposals by Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller (WV) and Russ Feingold (WI) to permit warrantless intercepts of foreign communications on a temporary basis while Congress considered possible permanent amendments to FISA:

Senator Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, offered a sensible alternative law, as did his fellow Democrat, Senator Russ Feingold. In either case, the attorney general would be able to get a broad warrant to intercept foreign communications routed through American networks for a limited period. Then, he would have to justify the spying in court. This fix would have an expiration date so Congress could then dispassionately consider what permanent changes might be needed to FISA.

As Media Matters has noted, the FISA amendments Congress approved permit warrantless monitoring of Americans' international communications -- so long as the government surveillance is "directed at" someone the government "reasonably believe[s]" to be outside the United States. Indeed, in an August 6 article, The New York Times quoted White House spokesman Tony Fratto as acknowledging, in the Times' words, that "the new law went beyond fixing the foreign-to-foreign problem, potentially allowing the government to listen to Americans calling overseas."

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