President Bush on Monday added to his administration’s criticism of The New York Times for reporting about the government’s surveillance of international banking records, calling the story “disgraceful.” “We’re at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America,” Bush said.
Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, countered the administration’s main arguments against printing the story. In response to the argument that exposing the program would cause international bankers to quit participating in it, Keller said: “We don’t know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under the authority of a subpoena, which imposes a legal obligation. Second, if, as the administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it.”
And in response to the administration’s argument that exposing the program would cause terrorists to change tactics, Keller said that the terror financiers already know that the United States is taking every measure to follow the money. “But,” he wrote, “they also continue to use the international banking system, because it is immeasurably more efficient than toting suitcases of cash.”
Treasury Secretary John Snow dismissed Keller’s defense as “incorrect and offensive,” but Keller was right to point out that the founders “rejected the idea that it is wise, or patriotic, to always take the president at his word, or to surrender to the government important decisions about what to publish.”
Posted by Melissa Cooley
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