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AMA slams Bush on eavesdropping
By Michael Conlon
February 13, 2006

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The American Bar Association told President George W. Bush on Monday to either stop domestic eavesdropping without a warrant or get the law changed to make it legal.

"We hope the President will listen," association president Michael Grecco told reporters after the more than 500 members of its policy-setting body passed a resolution saying that both national security and constitutional freedoms needed to be protected.

"We do not say surveillance should be stopped, only that it comply with the law," said Neal Sonnett, a Miami lawyer who headed the task force formed to look at the issue not long after the spying program came to light in December.

Authorized by Bush in 2001, the program allows the National Security Agency to monitor the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens to track people with ties to al Qaeda and other militant groups.

The White House has said warrantless eavesdropping is legal under Bush's constitutional powers as commander-in-chief and a congressional authorization for the use of military force adopted days after the September 11 attacks.

The program bypassed secret courts created under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, that grant warrants.

"We are not trying to limit the President's ability to go after terrorists," Sonnett told the group's House of Delegates before it passed his task force's resolution with relatively little debate.

"Nobody wants to hamstring the President," he added, "But we cannot allow the U.S. Constitution and our rights to become a victim of terrorism," he added.

Grecco told the group the issue is not whether the President can conduct surveillance but whether he can do it unilaterally.

The association's resolution calls on Bush "to abide by the limitations which the Constitution imposes on a President" to make sure national security is protected in a way that is consistent with constitutional guarantees.

It opposes "any future electronic surveillance inside the United States by any U.S. government agency for foreign intelligence purposes that does not comply with provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act."

If Bush believes that law is inadequate, then he should ask Congress to change it or enact new legislation, it added.

The resolution also called on the U.S. Congress to affirm that the post September 11 law on the authorization of military force did not give the White House an exemption from the requirements of the 1978 law.