A reader writes:
In the period after 9/11 in question, I do not find these cardinal sins. Venial maybe.
Had they eavesdropped without warrants for a few weeks or a few months after 9/11, you would be right -- I wouldn't have had a problem with it and I doubt anyone else would either. Then it would be only a venial sin. But the warrantless, illegal spying went on FOR YEARS -- into 2007.
The telecoms were making huge amounts of money from their contracts with the Gov't and the Bush administration wanted to spy on whomever it wanted regardless of what Congress or the courts said (to implement their theories of presidential omnipotence).
So the lawbreaking wasn't just "in the period after 9/11 in question." It went on for years. The exigency of 9/11 was long gone. They could have gotten warrants, re-written the law, done any number of things to bring the spying within a legal framework. But they chose to break the laws instead because they think they have the right to.
That's what is at stake here - whether the Government and corporations are free to disregard the laws enacted by the American people through their Congress -- not just in emergency situations, but well beyond that.
I take the point. I'd say in response that the line between emergency and non-emergency is a little blurry. And fixing it retroactively stirs up a nest.