Friday, February 29, 2008

ACLU, Democrats Refute President's Claims on FISA, Telecom Immunity

Anytime one of the President's "bizarro world" press conferences takes place - yesterday's lasting a mind bending 45 minutes - one feels the obligation to correct just a few of the most egregious lies.

In terms of this blog, the correction would be of the President's essential claim that Democrats are trying to kill us all by not giving telecom companies immunity. Thankfully, the ACLU jumped at the opportunity to do this for us.

Before we get to the ACLU's slap down of the President, the New York Times reports on some of the most outrageously disingenuous fear mongering in American history:

Mr. Bush said again that renewing the surveillance legislation is “a very urgent priority,” and that it must include controversial provisions that would shield telecommunications companies from wholesale lawsuits over their assistance in monitoring the phone calls and e-mail messages of suspected terrorists without warrants.

Failure to give the legal protection to the telecom companies would not only be unwise and dangerous policy but plain unfair, the president said at a White House news conference. The companies were told by government leaders after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “that their assistance was legal and vital to national security,” the president said. “Allowing these lawsuits to proceed would be unfair.”

Contrary to what administration critics say, “people who analyze the program fully understand that America’s civil liberties are well protected,” Mr. Bush said.


If the final legislation does not include protection for the companies, a wave of lawsuits could reveal how the United States conducts surveillance “and give Al Qaeda and others a road map as to how to avoid surveillance,” Mr. Bush said on Thursday.

Without the cooperation of private companies, “we cannot protect our country from terrorist attack,” the president declared, adding that the dispute was “not a partisan issue.”

...he adopted unusually robust language — saying, for instance, that it was “dangerous, just dangerous” for the legislation to be delayed...


And Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said the president was using “the specter of terrorism” to push his own agenda.

“If the telecommunications companies didn’t break the law, they do not need immunity,” the senator said. “If they broke the law, the American people deserve to know the size and scope of their lawbreaking. Adhering to the rule of law would not ‘aid our enemies’ — it would uphold the very principles we are fighting for. The President’s position has nothing to do with protecting Americans and everything to do with sweeping under the rug illegal activity by his administration and his corporate partners.”

The ACLU's press release continues along Kennedy's line of reasoning:

The following can be attributed to Timothy Sparapani, Senior Legislative Counsel for the ACLU:

"Contrary to the president’s false claim that those suing the telecoms are doing so because of a ‘financial gravy train," those who are seeking justice against the companies that sold out their privacy are not in it for the money. This is about the rule of law, and about insisting that corporations not be treated as above the law. You follow the rules, you don’t get sued. It’s as simple as that. Americans deserve their day in court.

"As for getting the help of these companies in the future, the president conveniently fails to mention that the companies will have immunity if they follow the law – namely FISA. For years, the telephone companies knowingly violated that law and should be held accountable. Because the administration does not want this lawlessness aired publicly, Bush is trying to prevent the courts from doing their job and is now goading Congress to bait them into aiding his administration’s cover-up. A full and public airing of the facts is necessary and overdue. The bottom line in all of these cases is that these giant companies must be held accountable for violating the law and dissuaded from violating the law in the future."

The following can be attributed Michelle Richardson, Legislative Consultant for the American Civil Liberties Union:

"The president continues to misrepresent the situation with FISA. Fear mongering and making unsubstantiated claims of lost intelligence does not help Congress reach a resolution. President Bush’s concerns can only be taken as seriously as his actions. Let’s not forget the facts - the Protect America Act expired because he flatly refused to sign a second extension. House Democrats should be lauded for standing strong on their principles and supporting the Constitution. The president can’t have it both ways. He can’t dig his heels in and then complain that nothing is moving. The president will have to lie in the bed he made while he waits for Congress to finish its job."

To read more about the ACLU’s work on FISA, go to:

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