Monday, February 11, 2008

Because They Said So

As you may know, no agreement was reached on the issue of Telecom Immunity - or the FISA Law in general - in the Senate last week. While that in itself isn't bad news persay, ALL signs are pointing in the same direction: Americans' right to privacy is going to be sold down the river in favor of protecting the same corporations that cooperated with our government's grossly unlawful spying program.

The New York Times - the paper that blew the lid off the illegal wiretapping program in the first place - wrote another excellent editorial detailing the "debate" going on in the Senate over an issue that can't seem to even make the television news cycle (or a debate!) even though it represents a direct assault on the fundamental principles laid out in our Constitution.

The Editorial reads:

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the president decided to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, and authorized wiretaps without a warrant on electronic communications between people in the United States and people abroad. Administration lawyers ginned up a legal justification and then asked communications companies for vast amounts of data.

According to Mr. Rockefeller, the companies were "sent letters, all of which stated that the relevant activities had been authorized by the president" and that the attorney general - then John Ashcroft - decided the activity was lawful. The legal justification remains secret, but we suspect it was based on the finely developed theory that the president does not have to obey the law, and not on any legitimate interpretation of federal statutes.

When Mr. Bush started his spying program, FISA allowed warrantless eavesdropping for up to a year if the president certified that it was directed at a foreign power, or the agent of a foreign power, and there was no real chance that communications involving United States citizens or residents would be caught up. As we now know, the surveillance included Americans and there was no "foreign power" involved.


The telecoms, which are facing about 40 pending lawsuits, believe they are protected by a separate law that says companies that give communications data to the government cannot be sued for doing so if they were obeying a warrant - or a certification from the attorney general that a warrant was not needed - and all federal statutes were being obeyed.

To defend themselves, the companies must be able to show they cooperated and produce that certification. But the White House does not want the public to see the documents, since it seems clear that the legal requirements were not met. It is invoking the state secrets privilege - saying that as a matter of national security, it will not confirm that any company cooperated with the wiretapping or permit the documents to be disclosed in court.

So Mr. Rockefeller and other senators want to give the companies immunity even if the administration never admits they were involved. This is short-circuiting the legal system. If it is approved, we will then have to hope that the next president will be willing to reveal the truth.

Mr. Rockefeller argues that companies might balk at future warrantless spying programs. Imagine that!

So there you have it...our elected representatives are simultaneously arguing that illegally wiretapping American's is unconstitutional and deplorable, but those that participated in creating this program shouldn't be held accountable for what they did because that might deter them from doing it again. Let that sink in for a minute...

But that's not all. This kind of tortured logic doesn't hold a candle to the administration's recent head spinning and constitution squashing position. See if you can follow: Bush argues that if the Senate doesn't quickly pass the FISA bill Americans lives are being put in danger - and in the same breath threatens to veto any bill without telecom immunity in it. Everybody get that? Bush is saying he will gladly put American lives at risk in order to protect the telecom industry from being held accountable for their crimes!

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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