Monday, December 17, 2007

Russ Feingold Gets it Right

And let's just savor the words of a competent, decent Senator for a change:

Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold
In Opposition to the Flawed FISA Bill
As Prepared for Delivery

December 17, 2007

Mr. President, this grant of automatic immunity is simply unjustified. There is already an immunity provision in current law that has been there since FISA was negotiated – with the participation of the telecommunications industry – in the late 1970s. The law is clear. Companies already have immunity from civil liability when they cooperate with a government request for assistance – as long as they receive a court order, or the Attorney General certifies that a court order is not required and all statutory requirements have been met.

This is not about whether the companies had good intentions or acted in good faith. It is about whether they complied with this statutory immunity provision, which has applied to them for 30 years. If the companies followed that law, they should get immunity. If they did not follow that law, they should not get immunity. A court should make that decision, not Congress. It’s that simple.

Congress passed a law laying out when telecom companies get immunity and when they don’t for a reason. These companies have access to our most private communications, so Congress has subjected them to very precise rules about when they can provide that information to the government. If the companies did not follow the law Congress passed, they should not be granted a “get out of jail free card” after the fact.

We have heard a lot of arguments about needing the cooperation of carriers in the future. We do need that cooperation. But we also need to make sure that carriers don’t cooperate with illegitimate requests. We already have a law that tells companies when they should and when they shouldn’t cooperate, so they are not placed in the position of having to evaluate independently whether the government’s request for help is legitimate.

Instead of allowing the courts to apply that law to the facts – instead of allowing judges to decide whether the companies deserve immunity for acting appropriately -- the Intelligence Committee bill sends the message that companies need not worry about complying with questionable government requests in the future because they will be bailed out.

This is outrageous. Even more outrageous is that fact that if these lawsuits are dismissed, the courts may never rule on the NSA wiretapping program. This is an ideal outcome for an administration that believes it should be able to interpret laws alone, without worrying about how Congress wrote them or what a judge thinks. For those of us who believe in three independent and co-equal branches of government, it is a disaster.

Mr. President, for all of these reasons I oppose cloture on the motion to proceed to the Intelligence Committee bill. I fear we are about to make the same mistake that we made with the Patriot Act. We passed that law without taking the time to consider its implications, and we didn’t do enough during the reauthorization process to fix it. As a result, three federal courts have struck down provisions of the Patriot Act as unconstitutional. And that is right back where we are going to end up if we don’t do our jobs and fix the Protect America Act. I urge my colleagues to vote No on cloture.


Let's remember that Senator Feingold and the equally impressive Senator Chris Dodd are working their asses off to hold on to the most basic freedoms that Americans seem to have forgotten they were entitled to. Feingold is ready to challenge the intelligence community--DNI McConnell in particular--and he should be given our support. When it comes time to find people with the courage to lead, these men should be considered at the forefront of their profession. While their colleagues stuff money in their pants and laugh at the American people, these men are doing the good work we need them to be doing. We need new leadership in the Senate, today more than ever. When Joe Lieberman can endorse John McCain and still hold his Senate seniority and his perch as Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is all based on his years serving as a Democrat, NOT an Independent, then there is no reason to keep the current Senate leadership. None.

In the age of Fear, these two men are pillars of Knowledge. You kill Fear with Knowledge, plain and simple.

UPDATE: Streaming C-Span at work, I note the fine speeches by Dodd and Ted Kennedy.

Senator Kit Bond, the Shame of Missouri, is up, arguing that his reason for supporting the FISA bill is because the NSA told him they were going to follow the law.

Just a question for you folks from Missouri--aren't you ashamed of this man and his lack of "Show-Me State" credibility? He's speaking about FISA like a rambling, incoherent old man who hasn't read any of the legislation. He's trying to bring the Truong case into this, and is inadvertently (or purposely?) making himself look so entirely ridiculous in public as to not be believed.

The Truong case has nothing to do with Telecom Immunity and the FISA laws. Truong was a case about a PHYSICAL search, not a warrantless wiretapping issue. Kit Bond is fighting like a madman with Senator Inhofe for the most incompetent Senator title, and seems to be winning it this afternoon.

UPDATE 2: 3:38PM Eastern

Dodd is speaking, Dodd is educating the people about the FISA laws. This is what informed comment is all about--a Senator who knows the issues, knows the law and can speak intelligently. Missouri is represented by an imbecile who will be forgotten as soon as he's hounded out of office. Dodd and Feingold are earning their stripes this week.

Dodd asks:

"Who knows what this or any future administration might cook up?"

I dunno--a phony war with no end that kills thousands of Americans, perhaps?

UPDATE 3: 3:33 PM Eastern

Go to this link to stream C-SPAN if you can:

Dodd speaks about Thomas More being cross examined--More is asked as to whether he wouldn't cut down every law in England to get to the Devil. No, More said, because after the Devil comes after me, what law will be left to protect me?

Dodd also says: Don't tell me the legal departments of AT&T and Verizon didn't know what the law was...

The idea of walking away from Habeus Corpus and allowing torture...Dodd regrets not doing more to stop the loss of those rights. Dodd is drawing a line in the sand.

Excellent stuff, excellent stuff. Can't live blog it properly. This is history in the making, the push back we have longed for.

Why not your medical records next time? Why not your financial records next time? Why not grant immunity to companies that turn those over?

Where are the wingnuts who used to bellyache and scream about privacy rights?

UPDATE 4: Orrin Hatch 3:40 PM Eastern

Feeble, attempting to say that this is all about protecting people in the US and all over the world. Says we can't talk about what we've done to "protect" Americans. What a lot of bullshit. Surrending your rights doesn't mean you're doing anything to protect Americans.

Hatch says it's the "confused speculation" that has caused a threat to national security.

Irrational fears? Expose classified information? Hatch thinks it's about revealing classified methods and classified information. Hatch thinks it's all about conspiracy theories.

The Bush Administration has done more to reveal classified information--you know, like the identity of Valerie Plame--than any attempt at getting at what the intel agencies have been doing with unfettered access to US telecom networks.

Hatch thinks its about 9/11. Uh, then why did the Bush administration go to the well BEFORE 9/11 to start warrantless wiretapping efforts?

Shameless, shameless.

UPDATE 4: 3:50 PM Eastern

While Hatch blathers on and on, trying to become the next Republican Senator to link FISA and telecom immunity to issues that it really isn't linkable to, I found this on Digby's site, and this is Al Gore explaining why FISA matters, and why we need to get behind Dodd and Feingold:

On this particular Martin Luther King Day, it is especially important to recall that for the last several years of his life, Dr. King was illegally wiretapped-one of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government during this period.

The FBI privately called King the "most dangerous and effective negro leader in the country" and vowed to "take him off his pedestal." The government even attempted to destroy his marriage and blackmail him into committing suicide.

This campaign continued until Dr. King's murder. The discovery that the FBI conducted a long-running and extensive campaign of secret electronic surveillance designed to infiltrate the inner workings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and to learn the most intimate details of Dr. King's life, helped to convince Congress to enact restrictions on wiretapping.

The result was the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), which was enacted expressly to ensure that foreign intelligence surveillance would be presented to an impartial judge to verify that there is a sufficient cause for the surveillance. I voted for that law during my first term in Congress and for almost thirty years the system has proven a workable and valued means of according a level of protection for private citizens, while permitting foreign surveillance to continue.

Yet, just one month ago, Americans awoke to the shocking news that in spite of this long settled law, the Executive Branch has been secretly spying on large numbers of Americans for the last four years and eavesdropping on "large volumes of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and other Internet traffic inside the United States." The New York Times reported that the President decided to launch this massive eavesdropping program "without search warrants or any new laws that would permit such domestic intelligence collection."

During the period when this eavesdropping was still secret, the President went out of his way to reassure the American people on more than one occasion that, of course, judicial permission is required for any government spying on American citizens and that, of course, these constitutional safeguards were still in place.

But surprisingly, the President's soothing statements turned out to be false. Moreover, as soon as this massive domestic spying program was uncovered by the press, the President not only confirmed that the story was true, but also declared that he has no intention of bringing these wholesale invasions of privacy to an end.

At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the President of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently.

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution - our system of checks and balances - was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men."


Hatch now tries to say that this will protect people overseas, that it will protect foreign persons.

Fucking-a, every time this comes up, I wanna blow a gasket.

NO! Foreign persons are NOT covered by FISA and foreign persons can always be targeted without a warrant.

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