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Wrong Number?

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The bill has passed the House vote and now it's on to the Senate. Here is what Senator Russ Fiengold said recently about the FISA reauthorization bill :
"The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation. The House and Senate should not be taking up this bill, which effectively guarantees immunity for telecom companies alleged to have participated in the President's illegal program, and which fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home."
There are a number of others who have vowed to oppose the bill as well, any bill that provides immunity to the telecom companies that cooperated with the Bush administration's illegal spying program. A great many of the Senators and Congressman who have spoken out against this "compromise" are statesmen I respect -and I have to say that I agree in spirit with anything that at least tries to take a stand on the administration's abuse of the basic rights of American citizens and the Bush League's signature utter disregard of the law. Notably, Senator Barack Obama has pledged to oppose immunity for the telecom companies "so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses." Here's my problem -I'm not sure this stand is in the right place or for the right reason. The immunity at issue would preclude civil law suits against the telecom companies (giant deep pocketed companies, I know) -premised on their cooperation with the Bush administration's illegal program. Now mind you, I'm no big fan of corporate immunity, but I do have the sense to realize that when large corporate concerns are asked to settle their criminal debts to society with civil awards of millions and millions of dollars, it is their millions of captive customers who end up forking over those dollars -the tobacco settlement comes to mind. I have this suspicion that the circuitries of consumer telecommunications are such that customers like myself are the ones who will end paying for these potential law suits. All because my family and I like our broad band access. Now, there's an irony. There might be ways a well written law could limit corporate ability to share the pain and penalty with customers, but maybe that's beside the point. Maybe we shouldn't be trying to address an egregious constitutional crime perpetrated by the country's chief executive by merely providing for civil recourse -against accessories to the crime. Read Feingold's quote again and you'll notice the key term -"the President's illegal program." When Senator Obama wants to seek "full accountability for past offenses" perhaps he should seek it at the culpable source. President Bush and his administration willfully disregarded the law. And lied. In the summer of 2002, even as the administration was well along in its illegal program, well along in its disregard of "cumbersome" FISA law, James A. Baker, the Justice Department's top lawyer on intelligence policy, testified before Congress that there was essentially no need to reform or even adjust FISA law. It was functioning as it was intended, Baker enthused. Congressional approval of the USA Patriot Act had allowed investigators "to use our expanded FISA tools more effectively to combat terrorist activities," he said. Months later, NSA chief Michael Hayden would assure Congress that FISA law was being observed, going into great detail to explain "the legal protections the law provides." Then Congressman Porter Goss, who would go on to become the Director of the CIA, warmly observed after hearing Hayden's testimony, "I'm not sure everybody in this country understands just how many safeguards we have for American liberties. And I think it's very important to underscore that." The President, himself would echoe those lies -even from the campaign trail- famously assuring his supporters that "nothin'" had changed. "Constitutional safeguards are in place," he proudly announced. "When "we're talkin' 'bout monitoring al Qaeda we're talkin' 'bout gettin' a warrant!" That's what he said. The term that comes to mind is "lies and misdemeanors." And our Congress would have us believe they are taking a stand by leaving the door open for civil suit against the telecom companies that cooperated? Sorry, wrong number.

 

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Tom driscoll is an opinion columnist, poet, performiing songwriter (let's just say he writes).
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