Constitution gutted

Gutting the Constitution

: 7:30 p.m. EST: After considerable effort by Senator Dodd and several pro-constitution Democrats, Senator Reid decided to pull the FISA bill until January. Here is Senator Reid’s statement.

“The Senate is committed to improving our nation’s intelligence laws to fight terrorism while protecting Americans’ civil liberties. We need to take the time necessary to debate a bill that does just that, rather than rushing one through the legislative process. While we had hoped to complete the FISA bill this week, it is clear that is not possible. With more than a dozen amendments to this complex and controversial bill, this legislation deserves time for thorough discussion on the floor.

“We will consider this bill when we return in January. In the meantime, I again encourage the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to make available to all Senators the relevant documents on retroactive immunity, so that each may reach an informed decision on how to proceed on this provision. I oppose retroactive immunity, but believe every Senator must have access to the information to make this important decision.”

Update I: Sometime between now and Wednesday, depending on likely procedural votes, Chris Dodd will take the floor in the US Senate and begin talking — a filibuster — and what he has to say touches on the most important issues facing this country. The immediate topic will be a bill to provide retroactive immunity to telecom companies who violated the law by helping the Bush Administration illegally spy on Americans. But the larger issue is whether Congress will ever hold a lawless executive branch responsible for its criminal behavior.

Senator Dodd will not be alone; a handful of Democratic Senators — including Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy — will be there to support him, and for those who promised to help, this is the time. They have to help him because their party’s so-called leadership has failed, again, in an all too familiar pattern of ineptitude and enabling.

Dodd and friends know how important it is to stop the atrocious Intelligence Committee bill, a bill that in addition to granting the telecoms immunity, does far too little to repair the damage Congress did last August to the 4th Amendment, individual liberty and privacy when they passed the dishonestly named Protect America Act (PAA).

But these few Democrats will not be enough to stop this travesty, and the question is: who will be there to help them? They need help, our help, the media’s help and the help of every Senator and Representative who still believes in the Constitution’s principles of accountable government and civil liberties. Those principles have been gravely damaged by a lawless Administration and a cowardly Congress, and it is long past time to stand up to this withering, unending assault on the Constitution.

The genius of our system is the principle of accountable government through three separate but equal branches, along with Constitutional limits on government’s power to invade individual liberty and privacy. These core principles are under relentless attack by this Administration. In the last week alone, the Administration told Congress, a co-equal branch in our Constitution, that neither the Justice Department nor the CIA will cooperate with Congress in its efforts to conduct lawful investigations into apparent lawbreaking. AG Mukasey’s DoJ told federal courts that this Administration does not have to obey court orders to produce documents, that it does not have to comply when judges ask whether they have relevant evidence to reveal, and that if prosecutors are caught dissembling, they cannot be held accountable. The Administration refuses to honor lawful Congressional subpoenas for the appearance and testimony of executive branch witnesses; and if Congress holds such individuals in contempt — as it should — the Administration arrogantly refuses to enforce Congress’ subpoenas. It is no surprise that the Administration’s lawless conduct is spreading unchecked.

The Administration’s guiding belief is that it is accountable to no one, that no other branch has the right to investigate its conduct, even when it acts against the Constitution. The Bush Administration has been concealing criminal, inept or unethical behavior from Congress and the courts, while denying the right and duty of the other two branches to hold the executive branch accountable. If the executive can act without accountability, we have a dictatorship — there is no other word for it, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

It’s time for our media and every member of Congress to wake up and take this matter seriously. The country’s founding principles are in grave danger, and saving the country demands their undivided attention to stand up against the onslaught. Nothing that is happening in Iowa or New Hamshire is nearly as important.

The leading Presidential candidates are under the illusion that the most important thing facing the country is to elect a new President next November. That can wait. The nation’s laws and constitutional framework are under attack now, and by next November, further irreparable damage could be done to that framework.

The time for leadership is now, not January 2009. We need all hands on deck, starting with Senators Obama, Clinton, and Biden. You want to be our leader? Leadership begins by standing with Senator Dodd.

Senate phone numbers are here; we should focus first on the 14 Senators who promised to help Dodd. Here are their fax and phone numbers:



Feingold (202) 224-2725 (202) 224-5323
Dodd (202) 224-1083 (202) 224-2823
Obama (202) 228-4260 (202) 224-2854
Sanders (202) 228-0776 (202) 224-5141
Menendez (202) 228-2197 (202) 224-4744
Biden (202) 224-0139 (202) 224-5042
Brown (202) 228-6321 (202) 224-2315
Harkin (202) 224-9369 (202) 224-3254
Cardin (202) 224-1651 (202) 224-4524
Clinton (202) 228-0282 (202) 224-4451
Akaka (202) 224-2126 (202) 224-6361
Webb (202) 228-6363 (202) 224-4024
Kennedy (202) 224-2417 (202) 224-4543
Boxer (415) 956-6701 (202) 224-3553


John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

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