DETROIT ”” An attempt to halt the National Security Agency’s controversial domestic surveillance program generated intense legal debate Monday before a veteran federal judge, with opponents branding it a threat to American citizens and defenders contending it is legal and essential to national security.

The case is the first major legal challenge to the warrantless wiretapping program, with the Justice Department squaring off against lawyers representing several groups and individuals that seek to have the program declared unconstitutional. . .

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he was troubled that Bush administration officials talked about exporting democracy but were “trying to circumvent democratic processes” at home.

Asked why government officials should have to go to court to get a warrant before wiretapping, Walid replied: “We have a president, not a king.”

 

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