Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Senators Introduce Bill to Repeal Telecom Immunity - Majority Leader Hoyer Proclaims His Opposition

By now, I think most everyone has a working knowledge of the warrantless wiretapping program under the Bush Administration. Similarly, I think we all probably remember the promises made from candidate Obama about his opposition to giving telecommunication companies immunity for their participation in Bush and company's crimes.

As we now all know, President Obama (and Attorney General Holder for that matter) has completely reversed himself, by not only refusing to prosecute or investigate the program and/or those that carried it out, but even expanding their defense of the program in some important key respects.

But now, finally, we may get a chance to see just where a lot of Democrats, and the President too, really stand on this issue. Remember, many proclaimed at the time that they voted for the new FISA bill that granted immunity to telecoms because it was critically needed to protect Americans, but that they would support going back and "fixing" it in the future.

Well, how much do you want to bet there are a whole lot of weak kneed Democrats coming up with a slew of phony reasons why they now can't back the bill just introduced by Democratic Chris Dodd (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR))?

The legislation, if passed, would repeal the legal immunity afforded the telecommunications industry for their participation in President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program.

Before I get to the article in Raw Story about the legislation, and House Majority Leader Hoyer's immediate announcement that he opposes the effort, let me provide some more recent revelations regarding the wiretapping program that we should all remember as this debate unfolds.

It was just a few months ago that a government report disclosed that President Bush authorized secret surveillance activities that went beyond the previously disclosed NSA program – raising the prospect of additional unlawful conduct. This new information has led to concerns in Congress about the agency’s ability to collect and read domestic e-mail messages of Americans on a widespread basis.

Supporting that conclusion was the account of a former N.S.A. analyst who, in a series of interviews, described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans’ e-mail messages without court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still in operation.

This report, mandated by Congress last year and produced by the inspectors general of five federal agencies, also found that other intelligence tools used in assessing security threats posed by terrorists provided more timely and detailed information.

In fact, NOT ONE instance could be cited that demonstrated the wiretapping program prevented any attack of any kind, ever. Nor did it lead to the capture of any terrorists. In light of these facts, one would think that the Obama Administration would come down somewhere at least close to the position that candidate Obama espoused on the campaign trail. Sadly, the opposite has been true.

In fact, all we have to show as a nation since this program was exposed is additional protections (and retroactive immunity) to telecom companies for sharing our private information with the government, and more legal cover for the Executive Branch to carry out similar efforts in the future.

Giving telecom companies immunity serves the dual purpose of protecting the politicians from having the telecom companies share what they know about THEIR crimes!

This very subject is in fact still working its way through the courts. A few months back, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker threw out more than three dozen lawsuits claiming that the nation’s major telecommunications companies had illegally assisted in the wiretapping without warrants program approved by President Bush after the 2001 terrorist attacks. But, while he said the objections of the privacy groups were not strong enough to override the wishes of Congress, Judge Walker did show some sympathy for the plaintiffs’ claims.

He had refused the government’s efforts to invoke the “state secrets” privilege and had moved toward compelling the Justice Department to turn over documents. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU are appealing the case, and, Judge Walker kept intact related claims against the government over the wiretapping program, as well as a suit by an Oregon charity that says it has evidence it was a target of wiretapping without warrants.

So, its important to remember the context in which this effort to repeal telecom immunity finds itself. I personally think its a disgrace that ANY legislator of any party could be opposed to following the only real avenue to the truth: discover what the telecommunication companies know and hold them accountable for their actions.

RawStory reports:

The four senators, all liberal Democrats, emphasized that they believed granting the industry immunity violated the law and due process.

“I believe we best defend America when we also defend its founding principles,” Dodd said in the release. “We make our nation safer when we eliminate the false choice between liberty and security. But by granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who may have participated in warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, the Congress violated the protection of our citizen’s privacy and due process right and we must not allow that to stand.”


Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold asserted that the telecom immunity provision, contained in a revision to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Act (FISA), short-circuited the US legal system. “Granting retroactive immunity to companies that went along with the illegal warrantless wiretapping program was unjustified and undermined the rule of law,” Feingold said in a statement. “Congress should not have short-circuited the courts’ constitutional role in assessing the legality of the program. This bill is about ensuring that the law is followed and providing accountability for the American people.”

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Seems perfectly reasonable doesn't it? Well, it took Congressman Steny Hoyer all of a day to run to the press and let his feelings known: I Oppose Accountability!:

"I don't think that revisiting that issue is really going to get us anyplace." While Hoyer admitted he had not seen Dodd's bill, he went ahead and dropped this waffling gem: "I am not going to make a decision on that at this point in time. I think there was a determination to move on on that issue and I think that determination is a good one."

Wow what ironclad logic! I guess we should say that about other crimes too then? Look, robbing that bank is in the past, what do we get from running down criminals after they've broken the law? What's done is done. What do we achieve by punishing wrongdoers?"

Gee, what do we achieve by doing this? How about accountability, avoiding the establishment of a dangerous precedent, and upholding the rule of law (to name a few)?

I'll be keeping an eye on this bills progress right here!

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