Mail Call

Readers of our Jan. 9 cover story were alarmed by the Bush administration's wiretaps. "The president is eroding civil rights," charged one. Echoed another, "He is defined by untrammeled power."

Your comprehensive discussion of the thinking and history behind President George W. Bush's ongoing spying "programs," in particular the flashbacks to similar abuses of power by the Nixon and other administrations, sent chills down my spine ("Full Speed Ahead," Jan. 9). What riles and insults me most is the administration's defense of this attack on Americans' civil liberties, which comes in the form of an utterly false choice: national security vs. civil rights and liberties. This is but the latest in a series of falsehoods that started with false intelligence and false alarms to justify the attack on Iraq. They were quickly followed by the false comparison of the war in Iraq to the war on terror. Now that we are mired in this terrible war comes the false logic that more brave Americans must die because so many have died already. I know that most Americans yearn for the quick return to an America where security and liberty are again compatible and mutually supportive goals. This cannot and will not be a false hope.

Dorian de Wind

Austin, Texas

We Brits admire NEWSWEEK's even-handed reporting. This time you slipped, albeit subtly, cutting slack an administration manifestly bent on a power grab whose overriding motive is power itself. So, Bush is just "determined to stand tall in the war on terror"? From the headline on, phrase after nuanced phrase in your report accord Bush/Cheney the benefit of the doubt on their motives for selectively dismissive attitudes to constitutional and legislative strictures, not to mention human rights. Why are the leakers on NSA domestic snooping "disgruntled" or even "less nobly motivated" rather than being rightly appalled at a flagrant clandestine administration abuse? Why would check--ing such abuses be "an overreaction"? History will record that the Bush White House wanted to keep Americans cowed and pliant because thence came the untrammeled power that this administration defined itself by craving.

Charles Dawson

Jevington, England

I applaud the proactive nature of our president. If my neighbors or co- workers are calling or receiving international calls from Al Qaeda or other groups that want to harm us, I endorse our government's efforts to protect us in the manner it chooses. No matter how you frame or label the policies of our president in our war against terrorists, the majority of the American public wants to see action now, not hand-wringing and blame-throwing after an incident.

Angela Hobson

Newport News, Virginia

I have a question for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney: would you support the same powers and secrecy you claim are legitimate for you if your opposition controlled the levers of government as you and your party now do?

Dan Thompson

Union, Oregon

You seem to assume that bush's claim that he is spying only on terrorists is true. Where is your evidence that he spies only on terrorists? Are we supposed to take Bush's word for it? After the Iraq war buildup, the torture scandals and the secret prisons, the president no longer has that kind of credibility. I can't, and you shouldn't, take his word for it. There is only one way to assure Americans that spying is not being used for political or nefarious purposes: congressional oversight and judicial review, just as the Constitution demands. Without this balance of power, there is nothing left to protect us from tyranny.

Tom Castele

New York, New York

Your article on presidential power was overly generous to the administration. You state that "the law [FISA] did allow for retroactive approval (within 72 hours)." The law is still in effect and, in fact, during a "time of war" this period is extended to 15 days, hardly "an unpardonable snare." Since the Patriot Act nearly doubled the size of the FISA secret court to address the needs of the war on terror, and FISA itself prescribes procedures during a time of war, perhaps someone can explain to this nonlawyer how presidential war powers give the president the right to ignore laws that limit his powers during a time of war. It seems to me that the president didn't simply "circumvent" the law, as you stated, but actually broke it.

Marshall J. Cohen

Princeton Junction, New Jersey

Isn't life full of irony? President Bush implored that we not cede to the terrorists, that we were not to change our way of life and what we stand for. Since that time, however, we have attacked a sovereign nation unprovoked (a first in our history), kidnapped individuals in foreign countries and transported them to secret bases, tortured prisoners and spied on American citizens. When one watches the Bush administration in action, it would appear that the terrorists are on their way to victory. I would implore our president to rethink how he does things and make more of an effort to adhere to our ideals, not to mention our laws, preserving what has made us a great nation.

James M. DeMasi

Via Internet

Your article makes two question-able claims about President Bush's domestic spying program. First, the program is not legal. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean observed that for the first time in American history, a sitting president had admitted to committing "an impeachable offense." You also imply that "liberals" and "Democrats" are the only ones who are critical of the president's actions. In fact, conservatives such as William Safire, Bob Barr and former Reagan associate deputy attorney general Bruce Fein have all voiced criticisms. Republican senators such as Richard Lugar and Arlen Specter have also publicly voiced concern. The question is, will Congress demand accountability from the president or place him above the law?

David Kenosian

Berwyn, Pennsylvania

In answer to the question on your Jan. 9 cover, "How Much Power Should He Have?" the answer is, the president should have all the power that is needed to make absolutely sure there won't be another 9/11. The Twin Towers were only two buildings. When Berlin and Dresden were annihilated it was a lot worse. Would NEWSWEEK want something like that to happen to New York? Common sense demands that one not criticize our government leaders in times of war. We are at war right now, and it is quite likely that Al Qaeda is working on plans to detonate a nuclear device in one of our big cities. Our fatalities in such an event wouldn't be just 3,000 but more like 300,000. NEWSWEEK should encourage President Bush and Vice President Cheney to take more-drastic measures than those they are proposing. Our survival depends on it.

Peter W. Stein

Roseville, California

Your article misses an important difference between the war on terror and past wars: almost by definition, this war will never end. So we are talking about permanent changes in our system of government, not temporary powers granted to handle an emergency. Even people who trust President Bush to use such extraordinary power wisely should be worried, because all future presidents will have the same power. If we let presidents set aside laws they consider inconvenient, sooner or later some president will decide that democracy itself is inconvenient.

Doug Muder

Nashua, New Hampshire

In several recent speeches, George W. Bush has tried valiantly to convince us that he should have the power, without a warrant, to wiretap (spy on) persons with "known links" to Al Qaeda. The part I don't get is, if they are actually "known," why doesn't he also just go and round them up?

Erik Moeser

Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin

One key fact your article on presidential power fails to mention is that the U.S. Supreme Court--usually looked to as the final authority on interpretation of the Constitution--has consistently backed up U.S. presidents when they have invoked emergency powers not specifically called out in the Constitution. In the 1944 Korematsu case, for example, the court ruled that Franklin D. Roosevelt, as commander in chief of a nation at war, had the constitutional duty (not just the authority) to take measures deemed necessary to safeguard U.S. national security, including forcible relocation of Japanese-Americans.

David T. Woitach

Hillsboro, Oregon

You state that president bush has had problems finding the right response to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, particularly after his shipment of cut-rate oil to selected Americans who need help with their fuel bills ("With Enemies Like These," Dec. 19). Bush should thank Chavez for sharing his people's oil wealth with needy American families. And he should add that while America is grateful for the gift, he hopes that Chavez will also address the needs of his own impoverished people, whose oil wealth he is happy to give away to gain political points.

Bruce Bernstein

West Hartford, Connecticut

As a teenager in Caracas, Venezuela, during the 1970s, I never felt comfortable in a population purportedly made of up 5 percent ultra-rich and 60 percent utterly poor. Dire signs of poverty in South America's richest country, at the time, crept up the city's mountainside barrios with rickety hovels made of corrugated tin and pieces of junk. If someone can show me that Hugo Chavez, the populist, has done something to turn this around, then I might think better of oil deliveries in New York. Alternatively, how about some Venezuelan crude for places with less PR value and even more need--such as West Virginia, or Appalachia?

Karen L. Mulder

Charlottesville, Virginia

Online misuse of bank accounts is a problem affecting many countries, not just the States ("Is That a Bull's-Eye on Your Wallet?" Jan. 9). So it's surprising that few countries have implemented simple security measures for home banking that have been commonplace in Germany for years. One method is for all online transactions to require both a PIN and a TAN. Tans are unique codes that can be used only once. The bank supplies customers with a list of 25 TANs in a computer-sealed envelope. The PIN is useless without the TAN and vice versa. Another method is to have an HBCI encryption chip on the debit card. This requires a USB card reader for your PC (costing about $15 to $20). There's also special banking software that can be used instead of the unsafe Internet browser (about $20 to $35).

David Long

Hanover, Germany

Regarding your story "A Harvest of Treachery" (Jan. 9), I would like to say that before the United States invaded Afghanistan, the ruling Taliban had almost eradicated opium production. Now that America has put Hamid Karzai in place, opium growing is booming. Heroin reaches world markets on a large scale and wreaks havoc and death, even more than the chemical weapons used by Saddam. So why does America allow this to happen? Attacks by the fundamentalist Taliban are on the rise, and Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden are still on the run. Another great success story? I think this administration is, by far, the worst the United States has had in living memory.

Willy Van Damme

Grembergen, Belgium