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Gonzales defends domestic surveillance program before Senate committee

[JURIST] US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] hearings on the Bush administration's controversial domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] opened Monday with testimony from US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile] after senators argued over whether or not he should be given a sworn oath to tell the truth [recorded video]. A vote by the Republican-dominated committee resulted in no oath, and Gonzales proceeded to defend the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] warrantless wiretapping program, sidestepping a question posed by committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] who suggested a review of the program by the Foreign Intelligence Service Court under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text], reminding Gonzales that the "president does not have a blank check" to eavesdrop. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website], the Committee's ranking Democrat, also challenged the legality [statement] of the surveillance program, acknowledging that al-Qaida terrorist suspects should be watched but expressing concern for "peaceful Quakers who are being spied upon, and other law-abiding Americans...who are placed on terrorist watch lists." Gonzales reiterated comments made in an extensive prepared statement [text] released prior to the start of Monday's hearing in which he called the surveillance program "reasonable" and "legal," and said it "may make the difference between success and failure" in stopping a future terrorist attack on the US. AP has more.

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