Today the House of Representatives will debate Resolution 895, which supports the Swift terror finance tracking program, and condemns media publication of the details of the program.
I listened to Hugh Hewitt today as he lambasted the measure, suggesting that its proponents are acting in a cowardly fashion by not calling out the New York Times and Los Angeles Times by name. Hugh was told that the leadership wanted to avoid “media-bashing” — which enraged Hugh and led him to lobby his callers to phone their Congressmen to complain.
As I listened to Hugh, I had no opinion on that aspect of the resolution — but I generally viewed the entire project as a cheap anti-media stunt.
But having read the resolution, I think it’s a great idea. And I think Hugh is being very short-sighted indeed in demanding that newspapers be named.
In fact, I wish the resolution weren’t about newspapers at all.
The resolution contains some very important language supporting the Swift program and the way it was handled by the Bush Administration.
It says the program is legal:
Whereas following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the President, with the support of Congress, directed the Federal Government to use all appropriate measures to identify, track and pursue not only those persons who commit terrorist acts here and abroad, but also those who provide financial or other support for terrorist activity;
Whereas consistent with this directive, the United States Government initiated a lawfully classified Terrorist Finance Tracking Program and the Secretary of the Treasury issued lawful subpoenas to gather information on suspected international terrorists through bank transaction information;
. . . .
Whereas the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program is firmly rooted in sound legal authority . . .
It says the program respects privacy and has appropriate controls:
Whereas the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program consists of the appropriate and limited use of transaction information while maintaining respect for individual privacy;
Whereas the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program has rigorous safeguards and protocols to protect privacy . . .
It says that appropriate Congressional members have been briefed:
Whereas appropriate Members of Congress, including the members of the Committees on Intelligence of the Senate and House of Representatives have been briefed on the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program and have conducted oversight of the program;
It says the program has been successful, citing the capture of Hambali, and Al Qaeda money launderer Uzair Paracha.
And it says that the disclosure of the program “has unnecessarily complicated efforts by the United States Government to prosecute the war on terror and may have placed the lives of Americans in danger both at home and in many regions of the world, including active-duty armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
In other words, it says everything that many of us have been saying for days — but it carries with it the imprimatur of the House of Representatives. The resolution makes a specific finding that
the Terrorist Finance tracking program has been conducted in accordance with all applicable laws, regulations, and Executive Orders, that all appropriate safeguards and reviews have been instituted to protect individual civil liberties, and that Congress has been appropriately informed and consulted for the duration of the Program and will continue its oversight of the Program.
I can’t stress enough how significant I think this is. It’s a Congressional vote of confidence in the program, and the President’s management of it.
If this resolution passes by a substantial margin — and if we spread the word about what it really says, rather than let the media characterize its contents — that will be a huge victory.
After all, lefties can’t really whine convincingly about the perils of the program’s lack of Congressional oversight, if Congress says that appropriate members did indeed have sufficient oversight, and that the program was working swimmingly in any event.
There’s no need to name newspapers by name, Hugh. That would be a distraction. And I say that as someone who is plenty steamed at the papers. Direct media-bashing-by-name at this juncture could give Democrats political cover to vote against the resolution. They could claim that they don’t want to seem to support prosecuting the papers.
They’ll probably say that anyway, but it would be an easier sell if we were to specify the names of the offending publications.
This is a great start. The leadership’s judgment is, for once, on-target. Let’s keep the resolution “as is” and strongly encourage its passage.
UPDATE: The House version passed, 227-183. It is a disgrace that 183 members voted against it. Nevertheless, as a body, the House has spoken, and it supports Bush on the Swift program. That’s an important step.