Al Gore delivers Bush bash.

WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Al Gore, saying “the Constitution is in grave danger,” ripped the Bush administration today for expansion of executive power to include wiretaps of citizens and kidnapping of Americans abroad.

Accusing Bush of breaking the law, he called on Congress to renew oversight and on Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate alleged privacy abuses.

Gore was introduced at Constitution Hall by former Republican Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, who has worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on privacy issues since losing his House seat. He was the first member of the House to call for impeaching President Clinton.

“If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can’t he do?” asked Gore.

Gore made his comments on Martin Luther King Day and reminded the audience that King was wiretapped by the FBI in the last years of his life. He did not point out that wiretapping was authorized by Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his predecessor, John F. Kennedy.

“At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA’s (National Security Agency’s) domestic surveillance,” said Gore. “What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently. A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government.”

Gore accused Bush of illegally kidnapping Americans and torturing prisoners in the war on terrorism.

“[T]he president has also declared that he has a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation, and that, notwithstanding his American citizenship, the person imprisoned has no right to talk with a lawyer – even to argue that the president or his appointees have made a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person,” said Gore. “The president claims that he can imprison American citizens indefinitely for the rest of their lives without an arrest warrant, without notifying them about what charges have been filed against them, and without informing their families that they have been imprisoned. At the same time, the executive branch has claimed a previously unrecognized authority to mistreat prisoners in its custody in ways that plainly constitute torture in a pattern that has now been documented in U.S. facilities located in several countries around the world.”

Gore claimed more than 100 captives have died undergoing torture and that 90 percent of the victims in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison were innocent of any charges.

“Whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses,” said Gore. “In the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes. Dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded.”

Gore said a historic shift in power has taken place – one that strengthens the role of the executive branch at the expense of Congress.

“The Congress we have today is unrecognizable compared to the one in which my father served,” he said. “There are many distinguished senators and congressmen serving today. I am honored that some of them are here in this hall. But the legislative branch of government under its current leadership now operates as if it is entirely subservient to the executive branch.”

Gore chastised members of his own party in Congress for failing to hold the administration accountable.

“I call upon Democratic and Republican members of Congress today to uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution,” he said. “Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of government you’re supposed to be.”

He also called for new whistleblower protections to be established for members of the executive branch who report evidence of wrongdoing – “especially where it involves the abuse of executive branch authority in the sensitive areas of national security.”

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