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Another Voice: Washington must act to restore Americans’ liberty

By Walter Simpson

The hunt for Edward Snowden is a waste of time and a total distraction from the very real issue of massive federal government spying on tens of millions of ordinary Americans.

We now know that National Security Agency surveillance programs sweep up our personal information and even the content of our communications by compromising the operations of U.S. phone and Internet companies.

Last month, 26 senators sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper requesting public answers to questions about these NSA spy programs. Conspicuously absent were Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both D-N.Y. A call to their offices did not illuminate their apparent refusal to sign this letter or their failure to inform us about these programs prior to Snowden’s courageous actions.

It is not comforting to hear that much of the information collected on us is “metadata,” or that electronic snooping and wiretapping are authorized by a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, court. This Kafkaesque body operates in darkness without checks and balances.

Surveillance programs targeting all American citizens are just one more example of Washington’s failed response to 9/11. It’s not too late for the Obama administration and Congress to take corrective action, as follows:

• Declare an end to the war on terror and apologize for spending more than $1 trillion to wage needlessly destructive, disproportionate wars.

• Treat terrorism as criminal behavior and continue to fight it, but within the bounds of law.

• Repeal the Patriot Act, end government spying on ordinary American citizens and substantially cut the spiraling budgets of the Department of Homeland Security and NSA.

• End drone attacks. They kill innocent people, are based on secret decision-making, lack due process, violate national sovereignty and fan the flames of terrorism.

• Close the Guantanamo Bay prison by quickly bringing to trial the few prisoners against whom there is real evidence of terrorist activity. Release the remaining prisoners.

• Enact deep cuts in the bloated $600 billion Pentagon budget. A cynic might say that the Bush administration launched the war on terror to increase military spending and profits for defense contractors for years to come.

If you are troubled or even outraged that government agents may be reading your email, recording your Internet activity, tracking your physical location, examining your financial records or listening to your phone calls, please remember those offenses are just the tip of an iceberg of government failure since 9/11. When will our elected officials address these critical issues?

Walter Simpson is a long-time member and former director of the Western New York Peace Center.