Thursday, July 10, 2008

one amendment down; nine to go

Oh, hell, why stop with the Bill of Rights—why not go for the entire Constitution?

Here is a less than comprehensive assortment of clips on Wednesday’s Senate vote to gut the Fourth Amendment. . . .

New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau:

The Senate gave final approval on Wednesday to a major expansion of the government’s surveillance powers, handing President Bush one more victory in a series of hard-fought clashes with Democrats over national security issues.

. . . .

Even as his political stature has waned, Mr. Bush has managed to maintain his dominance on national security issues in a Democratic-led Congress. He has beat back efforts to cut troops and financing in Iraq, and he has won important victories on issues like interrogation tactics and military tribunals in the fight against terrorism.

Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office:

This [new legislation] represents a fundamental shift in the notions of freedom and democracy that have defined our nation for well over 200 years. Americans will no longer have any expectation of privacy in our communications - leading many to be fearful about what they say and write so it is not misconstrued by some computer data mining program or overzealous government agent.

Glenn Greenwald:

With their vote today, the Democratic-led Congress has covered-up years of deliberate surveillance crimes by the Bush administration and the telecom industry, and has dramatically advanced a full-scale attack on the rule of law in this country.

. . . .

Will Democrats ever learn that the reason they are so easily depicted as "weak" isn't because they don't copy the Republican policies on national security enough, but rather, because they do so too much, and thus appear (accurately) to stand for nothing? Of course, many Democrats vote for these policies because they believe in them, not because they are "surrendering." Still, terms such as "bowing," "surrendering," "capitulating," and "losing" aren't exactly Verbs of Strength. They're verbs of extreme weakness --- yet, bizarrely, Democrats believe that if they "bow" and "surrender," then they will avoid appearing "weak." Somehow, at some point, someone convinced them that the best way to avoid appearing weak is to be as weak as possible.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY):

There is little disagreement that the legislation effectively grants retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies. In my judgment, immunity under these circumstances has the practical effect of shutting down a critical avenue for holding the administration accountable for its conduct. It is precisely why I have supported efforts in the Senate to strip the bill of these provisions, both today and during previous debates on this subject. Unfortunately, these efforts have been unsuccessful.

What is more, even as we considered this legislation, the administration refused to allow the overwhelming majority of Senators to examine the warrantless wiretapping program. This made it exceedingly difficult for those Senators who are not on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees to assess the need for the operational details of the legislation, and whether greater protections are necessary. The same can be said for an assessment of the telecom immunity provisions. On an issue of such tremendous importance to our citizens – and in particular to New Yorkers – all Senators should have been entitled to receive briefings that would have enabled them to make an informed decision about the merits of this legislation. I cannot support this legislation when we know neither the nature of the surveillance activities authorized nor the role played by telecommunications companies granted immunity.

Congress must vigorously check and balance the president even in the face of dangerous enemies and at a time of war. That is what sets us apart. And that is what is vital to ensuring that any tool designed to protect us is used – and used within the law – for that purpose and that purpose alone.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT):

Today, the United States Senate faced a very fundamental question that has been asked for generations: Does America stand for the rule of law, or the rule of men? But by passing FISA legislation that grants retroactive immunity to the telecom companies that allegedly participated in President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, we gave the wrong answer.

. . . .

I believe we best defend America when we also defend its founding principles.

. . . .

By sanctioning retroactive immunity, we have allowed the actions of a handful of favored corporations to remain unchallenged in a court of law. The truth behind this Administration’s unprecedented domestic spying regime will now never see the light of day.

Bruce Afran, a New Jersey lawyer representing several hundred plaintiffs suing Verizon and other companies:

The law itself is a massive intrusion into the due process rights of all of the phone subscribers who would be a part of the suit. It is a violation of the separation of powers. It’s presidential election-year cowardice. The Democrats are afraid of looking weak on national security.

And, last but not least, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) with Rachel Maddow and on Countdown:

You will notice there is no comment from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). That is because he didn’t have one—he skipped Wednesday’s proceedings (just as he has skipped previous FISA debates) to campaign. McCain has made it clear in the past that he supports the Bush policy, but just in case, he decided to keep it off the record.

You will also notice there is no comment from Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). I didn’t see anything new from Obama on Wednesday, but honestly, with his votes in favor of this capitulation, he’s already said more than enough.

. . . .

This sad chapter is almost over, but the fight is just beginning. Both the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation plan to challenge the constitutionality of this law. You can sign a letter in support of the ACLU here. Strangebedfellows continues to organize around this issue to fund primary challenges to Democrats that fail to defend our core beliefs. They are planning an August 8th moneybomb, and you can find out more about that here.

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