WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales contended Saturday that some critics of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program were defining freedom in a way that presents a "grave threat" to U.S. security.
Gonzales was the second administration official in two days to attack a federal judge's ruling last August that the program was unconstitutional. Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday called the decision "an indefensible act of judicial overreaching."
Gonzales, in remarks prepared for delivery at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said that some see the program as on the verge of stifling freedom rather that protecting the country.
"But this view is shortsighted," he said. "Its definition of freedom -- one utterly divorced from civic responsibility -- is superficial and is itself a grave threat to the liberty and security of the American people."
Gonzales and Cheney's attacks on the court order came as the administration was urging the lame-duck Congress to approve legislation authorizing the warrantless surveillance. The bill's chances are in doubt, however, because of Democratic opposition in the Senate, where 60 votes are required to end debate and vote.
The Bush administration has long argued that its warrantless surveillance program focuses on international calls involving suspected terrorists. It dismisses charges that it is an illegal tool because it bypasses federal law requiring a judge-issued warrant for such eavesdropping.
In August, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit struck down the warrantless surveillance program, saying it violated the rights to free speech and privacy and the constitutional separation of powers. She was the first judge to rule on the legality of the program, which is operated by the National Security Agency.
Bush and other administration officials sharply criticized the ruling, which the government appealed. They argued that the program is legal under the president's constitutional powers and saved lives by helping to disrupt terrorist plots.
Cheney, in an address Friday to the Federalist Society, said Taylor's order was troubling because it was "tying the hands of the president of the United States in the conduct of a war." He added: "And this is a matter entirely outside the competence of the judiciary."
In his prepared remarks, Gonzales dismissed as "myth" the charge that civil liberties were being sacrificed in the fight against terrorism. He defended the USA Patriot Act and the handling of detainees at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"To achieve victory at the cost of eroding civil liberties would not really be a victory. We cannot change the core identity of our nation and claim success," he said.
Gonzales served in the Air Force from 1973 to 1975 and attended the Air Force Academy between 1975 and 1977. He transferred to Rice University and completed a bachelor's degree there in 1979.
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