The NSA's warrantless surveillance program remains the focus of debate as President Bush prepares to leave office. The program allowed telephone calls and e-mails to be monitored without a warrant when they included U.S. residents and people abroad with suspected ties to al-Qaida or its affiliates.
While the argument is focused on some specific cases, it really is "a purely political matter aimed at President Bush and seeking to discredit the framework of anti-terror measures adopted during his tenure," Stephen Schwartz argues in this Weekly Standard column.
It is fair to wonder why opponents can't come up with a better test case than Ali al-Timimi. Timimi is serving a life sentence after being convicted of "soliciting others to wage war against the United States; counseling others to engage in a conspiracy to levy war against the United States; attempting to aid the Taliban" using explosives and firearms to further the scheme.
His lawyers filed a new appeal Tuesday, saying he had been subject to the surveillance and that he should be given a new trial because they were deprived of information resulting from it.
Schwartz notes that House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel Chairman Rush Holt (D-NJ) wants an investigation into whether government officials withheld information from Timimi's defense team. Timimi's conviction is based upon his coordination with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), the group believed to be behind last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Lest anyone wonder why U.S. officials would be concerned about the LET, Schwartz explains:
"LET is a powerful fundamentalist militia financed by the Pakistani government in its fight with India over Kashmir. The group has a close relationship with al Qaeda; prominent Guantánamo captive Abu Zubayda, a top al Qaeda operative, was arrested in a LET safehouse in Pakistan in 2002. The group is committed to terror in the West as well as in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Indeed LET is present wherever Pakistani radicals are found, and was involved in the 2006 plot at Heathrow airport that changed airline policies on passengers carrying liquids."
Timimi's case shows that the LET has followers in the United States, a true cause for concern. But as Schwartz dryly notes: "'Domestic spying,'" at least at this point, apparently trumps "international plotting of mass murder" as a matter for congressional scrutiny."