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Bush Condemns Court Ruling Against Wiretap Program


President Bush says he strongly disagrees with a federal judge's decision that the administration's eavesdropping program aimed at suspected terrorists is unconstitutional.

The president reacted to a ruling by federal Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Michigan.

Judge Taylor ruled Thursday that the warrantless surveillance program run by the National Security Agency was unconstitutional because it involves illegal searches.

Mr. Bush took issue with the decision in a brief exchange with reporters.

"I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live," the president said. "This country of ours is at war and we must give those whose responsibility it is to protect the United States the tools necessary to protect this country in a time of war."

The U.S. District Court ruling that struck down the surveillance program came in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The suit was filed on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who felt the surveillance effort inhibited contacts with clients and sources overseas.

Caroline Fredrickson is a top legal adviser with the American Civil Liberties Union.

"The judge recognized that the program for warrantless spying on Americans that had been authorized by President Bush is clearly illegal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and unconstitutional under the First and Fourth Amendments (to the Constitution). It is a great victory for our basic constitutional rights," she said.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says the administration will challenge the ruling in court and he was quick to defend the wiretap effort as a critical tool in the war on terror.

"We have the leaders of the intelligence community who have testified to Congress that it has been effective in protecting America," he said. "And so, we are going to do everything that we can do in the courts to allow this program to continue because it is effective, has been effective in protecting America."

Gonzales maintains that President Bush has the authority to conduct the wiretapping program without having to first inform a special surveillance court.

But Judge Taylor, who is based in Michigan, rejected that argument in her ruling. Taylor wrote that there are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution.

The program was secretly put into effect following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and was publicly revealed last year.

Revelations about the once-secret program set off a political firestorm in Washington.

Liberal critics like Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin accused the president of making an unconstitutional grab for power.

"We can fight terrorism without breaking the law. The rule of law is central to who we are as a people and the president must return to the law," Senator Feingold said.

But Mr. Bush's Republican supporters were quick to rally to his side over the issue, arguing that the surveillance program was an essential part of trying to disrupt terror plots before they became active.

Clifford May heads the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based organization that strongly supports the war on terror.

"You do have to do certain things, I think, in order to win the war," he said. "Our Constitution and the rights we have, those are not a suicide pact."

Judge Taylor has scheduled a hearing in the case for September 7. In the meantime, the surveillance program will be allowed to continue.

Many experts believe that the legal struggle over the surveillance program will eventually find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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