MLK Day and the Bush administration

One of the things that fuels the belief of some people in some sort of government conspiracy in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the fact that Army Intelligence (along with the usual suspects, the FBI, etc.) was monitoring Dr. King. And now, just in time this year's MLK day comes news that the Bush administration is taking legally dubious steps to make it easier for the Army to spy on American citizens.

The New York Times reports:

Deep into an updated Army manual, the deletion of 10 words has left some national security experts wondering whether government lawyers are again asserting the executive branch's right to wiretap Americans without a court warrant.

The manual, described by the Army as a “major revision” to intelligence-gathering guidelines, addresses policies and procedures for wiretapping Americans, among other issues.

The original guidelines, from 1984, said the Army could seek to wiretap people inside the United States on an emergency basis by going to the secret court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, or by obtaining certification from the attorney general “issued under the authority of section 102(a) of the Act.”

That last phrase is missing from the latest manual, which says simply that the Army can seek emergency wiretapping authority pursuant to an order issued by the FISA court “or upon attorney general authorization.” It makes no mention of the attorney general doing so under FISA.

Bush administration officials said that the wording change was insignificant, adding that the Army would follow FISA requirements if it sought to wiretap an American.

But the manual's language worries some national security experts. “The administration does not get to make up its own rules,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs a project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.

You have to admire the optimism of the aptly named Mr. Aftergood.

If the Army was intensely interested in what Dr. King was up to in America, Dr. King was himself was intensely interested in what the Army was up to in Vietnam. In an excellent column for MLK day, the Washington Post's Colbert I. King (no relation), directs our attention to Dr. King's speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” , and shows its relevance for our current attempt to recreate the Vietnam War in the deserts of Iraq.

It's a remarkable speech (the full text can be found here), and contains a passage I think sums up Dr. King's career far better than the endlessly repeated “I have a dream”. The words aren't Dr. King's– he quoting the great American poet Langston Hughes— but a more perfect expression of his civil rights struggles is hard to imagine.

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

The words are from Hughes' poem, “Let America Be America Again“. There's no better goal one could aspire to on a day that honors Martin Luther King, Jr., than the one expressed in that poem.

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