Warehouse C
Covering Their Asses
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Dodd’s State Of Washington Message Concerning GOP-backed FISA Bill


From Daily Kos


While the media was focused Monday on President Bush’s mundane State of the Union message, our legislators were battling over a proposed bill that would alter the FISA laws giving government agencies the authority to dig into private communication records and messages without a court order.


After a tough fight that lasted for weeks, the issue was defeated by a slim margin. The Daily Kos, an excellent blog that keeps an almost hourly watch on the important goings-on in Washington, picked up and published a most eloquent speech delivered by Senator Chris Dodd. What Dodd had to say was more profound than the mutterings offered by Mr. Bush a few hours later.


Following is the report from the Daily Kos, as it appeared Monday afternoon:

For several months now, I’ve listened to the building frustration over this immunity and this administration’s campaign of lawlessness. I’ve seen it in person, in mail, online—the passion and eloquence of citizens who are just fed up. They’ve inspired me more than they know.

Although few Senators are willing to acknowledge this simple fact, it has been citizens more than politicians who've led most of the way in the fight against warrantless surveillance - beginning the very day the programs were first exposed. And once retroactive immunity reared its ugly head on Capitol Hill last year, it was again citizens who raised the banner of opposition to that outrage. Lacking the cozy relation with telecoms that appears to be essential to Senatorial myopia on the issue, and fed up with the whole blatant charade in DC, we've never seen any sense in shielding law-breakers from the law.

Yes, secrecy is necessary, at times, in the life of every nation. But it’s a bedrock principle that democracies should always err on the side of less secrecy. For that reason, I believe that cases against the telecoms are best handled in our standard federal courts-which, by the way, have shown time and time again that they know how to protect state secrets...

It took three decades, three branches of government, four presidents, and 12 Congresses to patiently, painstakingly build up (the FISA) machinery. It only took one president to tear it down. Generations of leaders handed over to President Bush a system that brought security under the law, a system primed to bless nearly any eavesdropping he could conceive.

And he responded: “No thank you. I’d rather break the law.”

He ignored not just a federal court, but a secret federal court; not just a secret federal court, but a secret federal court prepared to sign off on his actions ninety nine point nine percent of the time. And he still hasn’t given us a good reason why. He still hasn’t shown how his lawbreaking makes us safer.

So I am left to conclude that, to the president, this isn’t about security. It’s about power: power in itself, power for itself.

I make that point not to change the subject, but because I believe it solves a mystery. That is: Why is retroactive immunity so vital to this president? The answer, I believe, is that immunity means secrecy; and secrecy, to this administration, means power...

And we find proof in their original version of retroactive immunity: a proposal to protect not just the telecoms, but everyone involved in the wiretapping program.

In their original proposal, that is, they wanted to immunize themselves.

Think about that. It speaks to their fear and, perhaps, their guilt: their guilt that they had broken the law, and their fear that in the years to come, they would be found liable or convicted. They knew better than anyone else what they had done—they must have had good reason to be afraid! ...

The only thing that stands to be exposed if these cases go to trial is the extent of President Bush’s lawbreaking. That, he will keep from the light of a courtroom at all costs.

This is a self-preservation bill. And given the lack of compelling alternatives, I can only conclude that self-preservation—secrecy for secrecy’s sake—explains the president’s vehemence.

Well, you might say, he’ll be gone in a year—why not let the secrets die with this presidency and start afresh?

Because those secrets never rightfully belonged to him. They belong to history, to our successors in this chamber, to every one of us. Thirty years after the Church Committee, history repeated itself. If those who come after us are to prevent it from repeating again, they need the full truth.

And we need to set an unmistakable precedent: that determining guilt or innocence belongs to the courts, not to Congress or the president; that lawless spying will no longer be tolerated; and that, most of all, the truth is no one’s private property.

The truth is public property. That's another principle worth fighting for, not least because it's a principle rarely spoken of in a Senate grown accustomed to swallowing the administration's lies.

(Dodd's speech deserves a wider audience both because of its passion – its rhetoric will remind you of the best citizen activism – and for the light it sheds on issues that Republicans have tried so hard to obscure. In this passage, for example, Dodd puts the debate about retroactive immunity in much needed context.)

But almost every time telecom immunity comes up, there’s an inevitable question:

What’s the big deal? Why are so many people spending so much energy all to keep a few lawsuits going forward?

Because this is about far more than the telecoms. This is about the choice that will define America: the rule of law, or the rule of men...

It’s about the Military Commissions Act, a bill that gave President Bush the power to designate any individual he wants an “unlawful enemy combatant,” hold him indefinitely, and take away his right to habeas corpus—the 900-year-old right to challenge your detention.

It’s about the CIA destroying evidence of harsh interrogation—or, as some would call it, torture.

It’s about Dick Cheney raising secrecy to an art form...

It’s about the Justice Department turning our nation’s highest law enforcement offices into patronage plums, and turning the impartial work of indictments and trials into the machinations of politics...

It’s about extraordinary renditions and secret prisons...

It is about all of that, Mr. President. All of that. We are deceiving ourselves when we talk about the torture issue, or the habeas issue, or the U.S. attorneys issue, or the extraordinary rendition issue, or the secrecy issue. 

As if each one were an isolated case! As if each one were an accident! We’ve let outrage upon outrage upon outrage slide with nothing more than a promise to stop the next one.

There is only one issue here. Only one. The law issue. Attack the president’s contempt for the law at any point, and it will be wounded at all points.

That’s why I’m here today. I am speaking for the American people’s right to know what the president and the telecoms did to them. But more than that, I am speaking against the president’s conviction that he is the law. Strike it at any point, with courage, and it will wither.

That’s the big deal. That is why immunity matters—dangerous in itself, but even worse in all it represents. No more. No more. This far, Mr. President—but no further.

More and more, Americans are rejecting the false choice that has come to define this administration: security or liberty, but never, ever both.

It speaks volumes about the president’s estimation of the American people that he expects them to accept that choice.

Just imagine if you had a President who understood that there is no security without liberty, who could speak with such conviction, passion and credibility about the rule of law. It would be like coming home to America again.