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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/20/08

Sneaking FISA Through the Back Door

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Congress is set to vote Friday on a bill that gives immunity to telecom companies that broke the law and contains vacuum cleaner style surveillance that sweeps up the phone calls and emails of Americans. Already, we know it’s blatantly unconstitutional. That's why it didn't pass the House the last time they tried to push it through. Not because Congress considered it un-Constitutional, but because the People did.

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Now, Democrat Steny Hoyer has stepped in to play the part that Senator Rockefeller played in the Senate last time - that of the capitulating political suck-up who would trade our liberty for the false perception of a little security. That's even worse than Jefferson's line, because he was talking about a real trade-off. Jefferson never would have believed that future generations of Americans would give up their liberty without at least actually getting some real security in return. But in no way does this bill make Americans more secure.

Things are moving so fast and so secretively that the ACLU only got a copy of this bill on Thursday.

There are so many things wrong with this "compromise" that it would take pages to list and describe them. But here are the most important reasons this bill must be stopped:

1. The Hoyer/Bush FISA deal allows for mass and untargeted surveillance of Americans’ communications.

2. The Hoyer/Bush FISA deal contains blanket immunity, virtually guaranteeing lawsuits against telecom companies will be dismissed. Ongoing lawsuits may be our last best hope of exposing the extent of illegal spying.

The Congress has already made itself complicit in most of the crimes of the Bush cadre, protecting itself from public scrutiny of what Congress knew and when they knew it. The painful truth is that many members of both the House and Senate, from BOTH parties, had personal knowledge of the illegal wiretapping and other government surveillance of Americans being conducted by the Justice Department, NSA, CIA, and even the little-known military intelligence agencies who were turned loose after 9/11 to operate domestically. They knew about the illegal propaganda campaign being waged against U.S. taxpayers, using taxpayers' own dollars to violate their rights and privacy.

As Keith Olberman said tonight on Countdown, "This is not F.I.S.A., this is C.Y.A."

Law professor Johnathan Turley pointed out that this "compromise" is no compromise at all - it gives Bush nearly everything he asked for to begin with. Mr. Turley also states that there is nothing in the proposed legislation that can be construed as good for Americans, and that the bill has "...no public value for citizens or civil liberties." Americans gain nothing from this bill, and they pretty much lose their rights under the 4th Amendment. Turley said of Democrats that, "They repeatedly tried to cave to Republicans" when this bill came up last time, but the American people would have nothing of it.

Of course, if the bill does conflict with the Constitution (which it definitely does), academically, it cannot be made law even if it passes both houses and is signed by the president. Academically, any such "law" will be found to be "no law at all" by the courts, which have the responsibility to interpret law and to "say what the law says." The Supreme Court is the "final arbiter" in Constitutional questions, and this kind of mandate for a president to be granted dictatorial powers will ultimately not withstand judicial scrutiny. But just the fact that this bunk could pass through Congress and be signed by an American president gives the authoritarian policies and legal theories embodied in it far too much credibility than they should ever receive.

But we are just one election away from having a Supreme Court that will change the course of American history - and eschew everything that made America great before 9/11 and George W. Bush's excesses.

There is absolutely no need for ANY of the provisions in this piece of legislation. None. Period. The original FISA, with its many updates since its passage in 1974, was perfectly adequate for protecting national security while disallowing abuses of power by an egomaniacal Executive. It was enacted for the purpose of protecting the public from the government, and to prevent corporations from teaming up with the government to spy on Americans. They are taking something designed to protect the public and turning it into a law that gives the government and corporations carte blanche to do exactly what the original act was supposed to prevent.

It is VITAL that we stop this bill. We stopped it last time only through overwhelming pressure that scared Democrats in Congress. They simply bided their time, hoping everyone would lose interest, and now they announce the bill one day before they try to ram it through. If it passes the House, there are rumors that the Senate will stop it, but that's bull. The Senate passed the original Rockefeller-backed monstrosity, and the only thing that stopped it was the House being scared of their constituents.

If Americans want to live in a society that operates more and more like the one in Orwell's 1984, all we have to do is sit on our hands and do nothing. I offer this modest prediction: If this bill becomes law, even if it is struck down in the courts, we will NEVER get back all the rights that we will surrender by letting it pass. In this assumption, I am not alone.

"A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever." -- John Adams

And even though our Constitution has not been changed, the constitution of our government and our Supreme Court has changed, and we are the only ones who can turn it back towards Liberty.

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JC Garrett is a freelance writer and Constitutional scholar from the piney-woods of East Texas. Mr. Garrett owns and operates an independent recording studio, plays several instruments, writes, sings, and produces music. His stories have (more...)
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