Warrantless wiretapping gets a smackdown.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 18 2006 3:45 AM

Tapped Out

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Todayall lead with a federal judge ruling the president's warrantless wiretapping program is quite unconstitutional. The Justice Department immediately appealed, and the NYT says the government got a green light to continue the program for now; the Post isn't sure. Citing "two Defense Department officials briefed on the case," the New York Times' lead says after the apparent massacre last year inHaditha, Marines destroyed evidence and tried to hold back video from a drone. The Times calls it "the first time details about possible concealment or destruction of evidence have been disclosed." (The NYT does have new details, but the LAT mentioned some of the same info in a story two weeks ago.)

"There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution," declared the judge, who was appointed by President Carter. The NYT says the wiretap ruling "rejected almost every administration argument." But only the Post latches onto what could be prove to be a problem with the decision: The judge's underlying reasoning stinks.

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"The opinion kind of reads like an outline of possible grounds to strike down the program, without analysis to fill it in." one law prof told the Post.

That conclusion is echoed in a Post editorial and by liberal law profs who've chimed in via blogs. One prominent professor said that while the court "reached the right result, much of the opinion is disappointing, and I would even suggest, a bit confused."

With the paper's legal eagles apparently in the Hamptons, a Times editorial has a slightly different interpretation: The ruling, it declares, was a "careful, thoroughly grounded opinion."

The WP and NYT front another federal judge siding with the government and ruling that tobacco companies have indeed lied to the public and broken civil racketeering laws. As the Times emphasizes, the judge ordered cigarette companies to further limit their advertising and to toss misleading labels such a "low tar" and "light." But the judge did not impose penalties for past damages. As the Post notes, assuming the ruling sticks tobacco companies will have to pay out only "a fraction of the cost of sanctions" faced at the outset of the case, when the government wanted $280 billion.

"There's nothing in this ruling that is going to hurt the profitability of the businesses," said one financial analyst. The ruling was based on the Justice Department's racketeering suit that was brought by President Clinton, and according to some career prosecutors, soft-pedaled by the current administration.

The Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox goes high with France, which had been expected to lead a newly buffed-up U.N. force, saying it's going to commit only 200 troops for now. Other countries had been waiting for France to blaze the way before committing troops themselves. French officials said the Security Council's resolution on the international force is "fuzzy" and that they want "guarantees" from the Lebanese government that Hezbollah won't target them. Fifty-eight French soldiers were killed by a Hezbollah suicide bomber in 1983. (Meanwhile, not-exactly-big-power Bangladesh pledged 2,000 soldiers.)    

Lebanese troops did head into the south yesterday. But given their general B-listness and their promise not to bother Hezbollah, it was, as NYT notes, "more about symbolism than security" and had "overtones of a photo opportunity."

USAT goes Page One with a few sources—foreign and domestic—saying U.S. spooks helped block an Iranian air shipment of missiles to Hezbollah last month. After getting a tip and photographing the crates, they warned Turkey and Iraq, who denied the plane clear passage. The plane eventually turned around. How were the spooks sure missiles were inside? "crate-ology."

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