FDR and domestic surveillance

Here’s a must-read article on the similarities between FDR and Bush on the issue of domestic surveillance in a time of war:

IN A BOLD AND CONTROVERSIAL DECISION, the president authorized a program for the surveillance of communications within the United States, seeking to prevent acts of domestic sabotage and espionage. In so doing, he ignored a statute that possibly forbade such activity, even though high-profile federal judges had affirmed the statute’s validity. The president sought statutory amendments allowing this surveillance but, when no such legislation was forthcoming, he continued the program nonetheless. And when Congress demanded that he disclose details of the surveillance program, the attorney general said, in no uncertain terms, that it would get nothing of the sort.

In short, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt charted a bold course in defending the nation’s security in 1940, when he did all of these things.

It is worth remembering FDR’s example as the debate over the NSA’s warrantless surveillance continues to heat up. After a few months’ lull, it seems that the issue is again creeping into the headlines. On April 27, for example, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter convened a press conference demanding that President Bush disclose the details of the NSA’s surveillance program, and threatening to suspend the program’s funding.

As with so many issues central to the global war on terror in which the need for security must be balanced against individual liberties, there is no fool-proof answer to the questions raised by the NSA’s surveillance program. Yet broad sections of the left have personalized this debate around President Bush. Their hatred and distrust of Bush drives them to see the administration’s actions in the worst light possible. To that extent, it’s important to understand how President Roosevelt — a paragon of the left — dealt with similar problems.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: John at Powerline, who writes:

In Roosevelt’s Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage, Joseph Persico writes that “[f]ew leaders have been better suited by nature and temperament for the anomalies of secret warfare than FDR.” He quotes Roosevelt: “You know that I am a juggler, and I never let my right hand know what my left hand does.” As Persico demonstrates (pages 34-36), President Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for intelligence extended to prewar domestic wiretapping of “diplomats, journalists, labor leaders and political activists” in the face of newly enacted statutory bans on wiretapping that had been upheld by the Supreme Court.

“I have agreed with the broad purpose of the Supreme Court relating to wiretapping in investigations,” Roosevelt instructed J. Edgar Hoover. “However, I am persuaded that the Supreme Court never intended any dictum in the particular case which it decided to apply to grave matters involving the defense of the nation.” Persico summarizes: “In short, never mind Congress, the Supreme Court, or the attorney general’s qualms. The nation was in peril.” (Persico’s reference to Roosevelt’s attorney general is of course to future Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson.)

It’s amazing to me how FDR – who authorized the Japanese internment camps where over 100,000 were detained, as well as domestic surviellance right here in the US during WWII – is lauded as one of the greatest presidents in US history, yet President Bush authorizes warrantless wiretaps of calls suspected terrorists are making to and/or from the US in a time of war, along with OKing a prison at Gitmo bay in which, oh, 500 or so suspected terrorists are being detained without trial, and all of a sudden Bush is the next coming of Hitler.

I suspect the lack of perspective by some on this issue has something to do with that hatred that Richard Cohen was talking about.

Hat tip: The Jawa Report

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