February 12th, 2008at 07:52pm Posted by Eli


Well, those useless bloody wankers have gone and done it again. Yet another Profiles In Courage moment from our allegedly Democratic Congress:

The bill to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, including a provision granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that facilitated government spying, passed the Senate on a 68-29 vote Tuesday evening.


On Tuesday, the Senate struck down several proposals to strip retroactive immunity from an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance act and seemed ready to pass a final bill. However, the FISA update still needs to be squared with the House, which passed an immunity-free version several months ago and remains opposed to the proposal.

The Senate actions would shield from lawsuits telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on their customers without court permission after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

After nearly two months of stops and starts, the Senate rejected by a vote of 31 to 67 an amendment sponsored by Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) that would have stripped a grant of retroactive immunity to the companies.

Also voted down were amendments that would have shielded the companies from most aspects of the lawsuits while still maintaining some judicial oversight of Bush’s program, which critics say violated privacy and telecommunications law. On a 30-68 vote, the Senate rejected a proposal from Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that would have made the government stand in as defendant in those suits. The Senate then rejected an amendment to allow the FISA court to determine whether the companies did, in fact, respond in “good faith” to government requests; that proposal from Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) failed on a 41-57 vote.

Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ) took some time from campaigning for Tuesday’s slate of “Potomac Primaries” in Maryland, Virginia and Washington to swing by the Capitol and vote on the amendments. Obama voted for the amendments to strip immunity from the bill, while McCain opposed the amendments and voted in favor of keeping immunity.

Hillary Clinton did not vote on the immunity issue at all, although she was in Washington at least part of the day Tuesday, competing in the same primaries as Obama and McCain.


Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer and blogger for Salon who has sharply criticized the warrantless wiretapping program, offers a brief history lesson Tuesday on the catalyst for FISA reform and its disappointing endgame:

It’s worth taking a step back and recalling that all of this is the result of the December, 2005 story by the New York Times which first reported that the Bush administration was illegally spying on Americans for many years without warrants of any kind. All sorts of “controversy” erupted from that story. Democrats everywhere expressed dramatic, unbridled outrage, vowing that this would not stand. James Risen and Eric Lichtblau were awarded Pulitzer Prizes for exposing this serious lawbreaking. All sorts of Committees were formed, papers written, speeches given, conferences convened, and editorials published to denounce this extreme abuse of presidential power. This was illegality and corruption at the highest level of government, on the grandest scale, and of the most transparent strain. What was the outcome of all of that sturm und drang? What were the consequences for the President for having broken the law so deliberately and transparently? Absolutely nothing. To the contrary, the Senate is about to enact a bill which has two simple purposes: (1) to render retroactively legal the President’s illegal spying program by legalizing its crux: warrantless eavesdropping on Americans, and (2) to stifle forever the sole remaining avenue for finding out what the Government did and obtaining a judicial ruling as to its legality: namely, the lawsuits brought against the co-conspiring telecoms. In other words, the only steps taken by our political class upon exposure by the NYT of this profound lawbreaking is to endorse it all and then suppress any and all efforts to investigate it and subject it to the rule of law.

Yes, the most effective way to stop lawbreaking is to make the illegal behavior legal. Problem solved.

There is still a faint ray of light, however:

There seemed some hope for blocking immunity in the House, as its Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, who has seen secret White House justifications for its warrantless wiretapping, said the documents do not support giving immunity to the telecommunications companies.

“Indeed, review and consideration of the documents and briefings provided so far leads me to conclude that there is no basis for the broad telecommunications company amnesty provisions advocated by the Administration and contained in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) bill being considered today in the Senate,” Conyers wrote in a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding (.pdf). and that these materials raise more questions than they answer on the issue of amnesty for telecommunications providers.”

…[T]he FISA update still needs to be squared with the House, which passed an immunity-free version several months ago and remains opposed to the proposal.

The two burning questions that I have are:

1) Who gets to select the House-Senate conference committee members? Will they stack it with pro-immunity creeps?

2) If by some miracle the conference committee reports out a bill without immunity, will all the Senate Democrats vote for it, or will they refuse to vote in favor of a bill that leaves their telecom buddies out in the cold? If all the Senate Dems vote for it, but they don’t have enough votes (Lieberman, 60-vote requirement) to pass it, do they have the balls to let the Republicans take the hit for obstruction? Likewise if they have enough votes to pass it but not enough votes to override the inevitable veto.

I wish I could say I felt optimistic, but the Senate Democrats seem absolutely determined to flush the rule of law down the toilet. Rubbing the stink of Dubya’s rotting political corpse all over themselves appears to be their idea of a brilliant strategy for November success. Yay, team.

Entry Filed under: Bush,Constitution,Corruption/Cronyism,Democrats,Politics,Republicans,Terrorism

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