The FISA Cavein Is Congress’ Shame
For six years, the Bush Administration and the nation’s communication companies have been illegally spying on Americans’ phone calls and e-mails. They did this in direct violation of the Constitution’s 4th Amendment and a federal statute – FISA. Both laws emphatically forbid such surveillance unless the government first obtains a warrant from an independent (eg, FISA) court.
FISA makes violation of these warrant requirements a felony, but the Bush “Justice” Department refuses to prosecute anyone. And rather than demand a halt to such lawbreaking, a full accounting of what happened, and legal accountability for the perpetrators, the US Senate is planning today to grant immunity to the lawbreakers, while sanctioning more warrantless surveillance, weakened oversight and a sham investigation.
These FISA revisions essentially gut the law’s protections; they will continue the cover up of criminal behavior and ensure that no one is ever held accountable for breaking the law.
And it wasn’t just a few, scattered incidents of warrantless surveillance, nor was the spying directed solely at suspected “terrorists.” The spying was massive, sweeping, and undifferentiated. Everyone’s privacy was vulnerable.
The telecoms violated both the law and their obligation to protect their customers’ privacy from unlawful government snooping. With their help, the Bush Administration diverted, stored and searched through millions of our communications looking for . . . what?
None but a few government insiders knows what they’ve got, who gets to look at it, what becomes of it. And because the FISA revision bill gives the telecoms immunity from lawsuits, we may never know the extent of this illegal spying. More important, we won’t know how our private information becomes misinterpreted and misused – that is, used against us, without us knowing why or being able to do anything about it.
Only a handful in Congress have been briefed, and given this Administration’s pervasive lying, we have no reason to trust that even these few were told the truth. Most in Congress remain blissfully ignorant of what these programs involve, and their attempts to explain their support for the revisions reveal they have no clue what they’re approving.
The Senate and House sponsors of this shameful effort have consistently misrepresented this bill. Their claims that it is a reasonable “compromise” between national security needs and civil liberties include the notion that if a bill makes legal what was previously illegal, that’s progress. They claim the bill requires the executive branch to investigate itself, so that is better than having the executive branch defy Congressional efforts to investigate. How pitiful.
A few courageous Senators – Feingold (video here, and see RawStory for text), Dodd (h/t emptywheel), Bingaman — are trying to stop this shameful action, but they are facing overwhelming defeat by virtually all Republicans and far too many Democrats, including their own leadership and the presumptive Presidential nominees of both parties.
Can you imagine the leaders of our present Congress signing the Declaration of Independence? Would any of them have insisted that the Constitution not be ratified unless it included a Bill of Rights?
The excuse these “leaders” offer for their craven refusal to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law is that we face unprecedented threats from terrorists. They are so afraid that they’re willing to give up our rights against a powerful government if the government will only protect them. But the Constitution does not give Congress the power to make this compromise; their oaths compel them to uphold the Constitution.
The nation’s founders were not such frightened people. Those who signed the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in open defiance of the world’s most powerful empire, a regime that would certainly have hanged them if they failed in their efforts to become free men. Now our Congress cowers because they fear a President with 25 percent approval ratings and a Republican Party that the electorate can’t wait to throw out of office. Pathetic.
Last week, I got several e-mails/phone calls from the DNC, Obama, etc asking for donations. “Can we count on you for support” they asked? Here’s my answer: The Democratic leadership deserves our scorn. If they want my support, my donations or my votes, they must earn them first. Clear enough?