WASHINGTON — At the funeral of Coretta Scott King, Feb. 7, former President Jimmy Carter sounded a pointed warning for today by recalling the dark days of government spying on the King family in the 1960s.

“It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance,” Carter said.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 6, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales offered bland assurances that President George W. Bush is within the law in ordering domestic spying on the people without warrants. But it did not quiet an angry storm that Bush is committing an impeachable offense and should be called to account.

The rising opposition to Bush’s police state tactics is reflected in the fact that despite his plea in the State of the Union address for reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, Congress once again extended the repressive bill for only one month.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) put it bluntly, charging that Bush’s “lying” and “spying on American citizens, no matter how he tries to frame it, are impeachable offenses. … The issue he’s been caught red-handed on is really typical of who he is, how he handles the presidency, and what his leadership is all about: spying and lying … particularly [about] the war in Iraq.”

From the beginning, Gonzales’ testimony was suspect since Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) refused to place Gonzales under oath, a maneuver to immunize him from perjury charges. An antiwar protester was ejected from the hearing room when he shouted “fascist” as Gonzales spoke. Another protester wore a T-shirt with the message, “Enforce the law. Arrest Bush.”

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) told the hearing, “Of course we have a disagreement on whether the witness should have been sworn.” Bush’s warrantless spying “is jeopardizing the principles on which this country was founded,” Feingold added. “This administration has been violating the law and misleading the public to try to justify it.”

Feingold zeroed in on Gonzales’ testimony to the Senate Judiciary just a few weeks ago in which he flatly denied that Bush had ordered any surveillance that violates the Constitution or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA established a secret FISA court to speed up the processing of warrants. But Bush circumvented the FISA court in ordering the National Security Agency to engage in massive wiretapping of overseas phone calls of American citizens.

“That testimony was seriously misleading,” Feingold said. “You wanted the American people to believe this kind of [spy] program was not going on and it was. You could have said the president has the authority…But you wanted to be attorney general so you issued a misleading statement. You were under oath at the time.”

The White House had hoped that Gonzales’ one-day appearance would satisfy the senators. But Specter indicated that the attorney general would be recalled for a second day and in the meantime former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other former administration officials may be called.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas grilled Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, during a White House briefing Feb. 6. “He [Bush] has put his hand on the Bible twice and promised to uphold the Constitution,” Thomas told McClellan. “Wiretapping without a warrant is unconstitutional.”

McClellan, his face red with anger, snapped, “This is a very different situation and you know it.”

“No it isn’t,” Thomas snapped back.

Bill Goodman, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, sent out an e-mail warning that the Gonzales hearing “is not enough” and urging messages to senators and House members demanding that “they call for a special prosecutor and the release of all the Justice Department memos regarding spying on U.S. citizens.” The Bush administration has refused to turn over files on the NSA spy operation to Congress. “The Bush White House has consistently worked to avoid judicial oversight and destroy the system of checks and balances on which this country was founded,” Goodman wrote. Gonzales should “tell Congress all the facts regarding the Bush administration spying on Americans. He should also resign.”

CCR also demanded an investigation of Gonzales’ advice to Bush on how to “break the law regarding torture, detention, and rendition” of thousands of detainees.

Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department official in the Reagan administration, said that Bush’s power grab is so sweeping he could justify “internment camps for groups of citizens he deems suspicious.” Bush’s plea that people should trust him, Fein added, “is a view that would cause the founding fathers to weep. … Clearly this is inconsistent with the separation of powers.”

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