(CNSNews.com) - Former Vice President Al Gore on Monday compared suspected terrorists being monitored by the Bush administration to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"On this particular Martin Luther King Day, it is especially important to recall that for the last several years of his life, Dr. King was illegally wiretapped," Gore said. He referred to King as "one of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government during that period." Watch Video of Gore
During the 1950s and 1960s, Gore said, the FBI wire-tapped King's phones and held files on him and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The FBI had labeled King "the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country," and sought to "take him off his pedestal," according to the man who served as vice president to Democratic President Bill Clinton from 1993 until 2001.
Bush has attempted to silence dissenters, Gore said, just as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover before him in the investigation of King. "CIA analysts who strongly disagreed with the White House assertion that Osama bin Laden was linked to Saddam Hussein found themselves under pressure at work," he added. "Ironically, that is exactly what happened to the FBI officials in the 1960s who disagreed with J. Edgar Hoover's assertion that Dr. King was closely connected to Communists."
Gore criticized the Bush administration's secret, warrant-less surveillance of suspected terrorists living in the United States, calling it a "truly breathtaking expansion of executive power" that poses a "grave danger" to the Constitution.
The Bush administration's wiretapping is a "wholesale invasion of privacy," Gore said, and that "compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently." He added that, "A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government."
Gore's hour-long speech was interrupted several times by standing ovations from the audience that was comprised mostly of members of MoveOn.org, many waving signs reading "Impeach Bush and Cheney." MoveOn.org joined with the American Constitution Society and the Liberty Coalition to organize the event.
Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, called Gore's speech an example of his "incessant need to insert himself in the headline of the day" and said he lacks understanding of the threats facing America. "While the president works to protect Americans from terrorists, Democrats deliver no solutions of their own, only diatribes laden with inaccuracies and anger."
Schmitt pointed to a 1996 White House briefing in which Gore said, "The bottom line is that President Clinton and I ... have pledged to the families of the victims of terrorism that we're going to take the strongest measure possible to reduce the risk of another tragedy in the future."
In his speech Monday, Gore said he agrees with Bush's assertion that "the threat from terrorism is all too real," but added, "Where we disagree is that we have to break the law or sacrifice our system of government to protect Americans from terrorism."
Gore added that "unless stopped, lawlessness grows." He called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether the wiretapping violated the Constitution.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, a Republican, was originally slated to introduce Gore via satellite, but technical failures prevented his appearance. Barr has been critical of the Bush administration's national security policies.
Barr was also critical of the Clinton administration for its involvement in the secret surveillance project called Echelon, which reportedly monitored telephone calls, faxes and e-mails that contained threatening key words.
Gore did not address Echelon or reports that Clinton authorized the domestic use of warrant-less searches during his presidency. He did not take questions from reporters following his speech.
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