Letters To The Editor

December 25, 2005

Laws must limit domestic spying

President Bush's rhetoric about the need for the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept domestic communications rings too hollow to believe ("Bush defends his spy powers," Dec. 20).

With all earnestness, he is trying to convince the public that he needs to circumvent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) because of the onerous obligations that act places on the intelligence community.

But as pointed out in The Sun's article "Bush officials claim spy court cumbersome" (Dec. 20), the NSA can intercept any communication under FISA as long as it goes to a special judge within 72 hours to get approval.

So how many disapprovals has the government faced?

According to the reporting required under FISA from the attorney general to Congress, 932, 1,228, 1,727 and 1,758 applications were received in 2001 through 2004. All but four of those applications were approved.

This hardly sounds like much of an obstacle to the government, though it should be noted that 94 of those applications in 2004 were "modified" by the court.

So one can only assume that the court oversight is providing some control on the domestic intelligence community.

The question remains, how many intercepts has NSA been asked to do for the government?

If the president wants us to trust him, he should have NSA reveal the number of individuals monitored each year.

That certainly would not reveal any national security details, but it would provide Congress and the public with a way to determine whether this process is being abused.

I don't think that the difference between having NSA or CIA or FBI or DIA doing the monitoring is relevant any longer, in a world in which many of these functions have been merged into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The issue, however, is one of oversight.

DHS and its constituent departments cannot be given carte blanche to monitor residents of this country without some judicial oversight, even if that oversight appears to be minimally controlling.

Raymond Hoff

Columbia

The system sustains our right to a trial

In "The lessons to be drawn from one guilty plea" (Dec. 17), Gregory Kane writes that without the death penalty, Towson mall murderer John E. Kennedy Jr. "and others might try to punk the system by going to trial and taking their chances of being acquitted" in the hope that they might wind up with "sappy jurors."

Whatever one thinks about the death penalty, this notion - that one who pleads not guilty, invokes the presumption of innocence and requires the state to produce evidence that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is somehow "punking the system" - is offensive to our Constitution and to a free-thinking society.

Mr. Kane's point that the death penalty is a good thing because it scares accused murderers into giving up their constitutional rights reflects, at best, a cynical world view and, at worst, a despotic ideology.

F. Spencer Gordon

Towson

The writer is an attorney for the office of the public defender who represented Mr. Kennedy.

Life sentences put burden on taxpayers

If you oppose the death penalty, please read "Drifter charged in 5 city killings" (Dec. 20). It details the brutal murders of at least five defenseless seniors allegedly committed by a 34-year-old drifter.

The victims were 60, 78, 78, 82 and 88 years old.

Why would we even consider a sentence of life without parole for this man, which is what the city state's attorney's office says it is considering asking for if he is convicted of murder?

Such a sentence would, in effect, ask everyone - including senior citizens on fixed incomes struggling to buy food and medicine - to feed, house, clothe and provide medical care for this man for the rest of his life through their taxes.

Don Pennington

Trappe

The Senate reverses Robin Hood's role

The Senate has passed $40 billion worth of spending cuts from programs for the poor and middle class ("Senate rejects Alaska drilling," Dec. 22).

Food stamps, Medicaid, child support enforcement and college loans will all be cut to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

This is Robin Hood in reverse.

Richard L. Ottenheimer

Pikesville

Military approach won't stop drug flow

G. Jefferson Price III has good reason to question the U.S. drug war in Colombia ("Time to confront the truth about another U.S. war," Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 14). Plan Colombia could very well spread both coca production and civil war throughout South America.

U.S. tax dollars would be better spent addressing the socioeconomic causes of civil strife in Colombia rather than applying overwhelming military force to attack the symptoms.

We're not doing the Colombian people any favors by funding a civil war, nor are Americans being protected from drugs.

Destroy the Colombian coca crop and production will boom in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Destroy every last plant in South America and domestic methamphetamine production will increase to meet the demand for cocaine-like drugs.

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