FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Senate Democrats Poised to Fold to Cheney on FISA

After a January 24 debate in the Senate on amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Senate appears ready to capitulate once again to the Bush administration’s agenda of sacrificing liberty for questionable security.

On the day before Congress was slated to take up this issue, Dick Cheney addressed the Heritage Foundation, the most influential right-wing think tank. He was given a thunderous reception, to which he quipped, “I hold an office that has only one constitutional duty – presiding over the Senate and casting tie-breaking votes.” But the most powerful vice president in this nation’s history was about to strong-arm Congress into doing the administrations’ bidding.

Invoking the memory of September 11, 2001 twelve times, Cheney said it was “urgent” that Congress update the FISA law immediately and permanently. Notwithstanding the administration’s well-known violations of FISA months before 9/11, Cheney claimed they had used “every legitimate tool at our command to protect the American people against another attack.” He omitted the illegal tools the administration has admitted using, that is, Bush’s so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and a massive data mining program. FISA makes it a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, for the executive to conduct a wiretap without statutory authorization. The TSP has been used to target not just the terrorists, but also critics of administration policies, particularly the war in Iraq.

Although Cheney repeatedly linked amending FISA with protecting America, there is no evidence Bush’s secret spying program has made us any safer. Indeed, in 2006, the Washington Post reported that nearly all of the thousands of Americans’ calls that had been intercepted revealed nothing pertinent to terrorism. About the same time, the New York Times quoted a former senior federal prosecutor, who described tips from intelligence officials involved in the surveillance. “The information was so thin and the connections were so remote, that they never led to anything, and I never heard any follow-up,” he said.

In his speech to the Heritage Foundation, Cheney aimed to bully Congress into making the so-called “Protect America Act of 2007” permanent. On the eve of Congress’s Labor Day recess last year, the Bush administration had rammed that act through a Congress still fearful of appearing soft on terror. It was a 6-month fix to the 1978 FISA, which didn’t anticipate that foreign intelligence communications would one day run through Internet providers in the United States. But the temporary law, which expires February 1, went further than simply fixing that glitch in FISA; it granted immunity to telecommunications companies that turned over our telephone and Internet communications to the government.

Permanent immunity, retroactive to 9/11, for the telecommunications companies is the apparently most critical concern of the Bush administration, whose primary constituency has been the mega-corporations. Although Cheney touted these companies as patriotic partners in the administration’s “war on terror,” they are breaking several U.S. laws, including FISA itself, Title III, the Communications Act, and the Stored Communications Act, as well as the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. Indeed, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation put it, “the real heroes are the companies that refused to help [the administration], like Verizon Wireless” and Quest Communications.

Cheney quoted Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who described the need for these companies to defend against litigation as “an enormous burden.” What he really meant is that defending the roughly 40 pending lawsuits is cutting into their enormous profits.

The House of Representatives passed a bill without immunity for the telecoms. But in a 60-36 vote, the Senate rejected a proposal from the Senate Judiciary Committee that omitted immunity and contained important limits on wiretapping powers. Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and Democratic senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were not present for the vote.

Senator Christopher Dodd has indicated his intent to filibuster, or prevent a Senate vote, on a version of the bill that includes immunity. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apparently now supports the filibuster. The Senate is scheduled to vote on whether to proceed to a final Senate vote on this issue on January 28. Three of the Democrats who voted against the SJC proposal must be persuaded to change their votes, and Clinton and Obama must follow suit in order to maintain the filibuster and prevent the Senate from adopting a bill that includes immunity and omits vital civil liberties safeguards.

Here are the Democrats who voted against the SJC proposal:

Bayh (202) 224-5623
Carper (202) 224-2441
Inouye (202) 224-3934
Johnson (202) 224-5842
Landrieu (202)224-5824
McCaskill (202) 224-6154
Mikulski (202) 224-4654
Nelson (FL) (202) 224-5274
Nelson (NE) (202) 224-6551
Pryor (202) 224-2353
Salazar (202) 224-5852

John Edwards, the only Democratic presidential candidate willing to effectively take on the corporations, should weigh in against immunity for the telecoms and challenge his competitors to do the same. This is a golden opportunity for Clinton and Obama to exercise leadership on a crucial issue. Our civil liberties and privacy rights are at stake.

MARJORIE COHN is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law

 

 

 

More articles by:

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She writes, speaks and does media about human rights and U.S. foreign policy. Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.” Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter at @marjoriecohn.

Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
Domenica Ghanem
Is Bush’s Legacy Really Much Different Than Trump’s?
Peter Certo
Let Us Argue Over Dead Presidents
Christopher Brauchli
Concentration Camps From Here to China
ANIS SHIVANI
The Progress of Fascism Over the Last Twenty Years
Steve Klinger
A Requiem for Donald Trump
Al Ronzoni
New Deals, From FDR’s to the Greens’
Gerald Scorse
America’s Rigged Tax Collection System
Louis Proyect
Praying the Gay Away
Rev. Theodore H. Lockhart
A Homily: the Lord Has a Controversy With His People?
David Yearsley
Bush Obsequies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail