Congress is back, and so is the fight over whether the nation's telecommunication companies--and the Bush administration--will skate on the charges of spying on American citizens without a warrant. If the Congress grants telcos the amnesty they and the administration are seeking, investigations on the scope of the illegal spying won't go forward, and we might never know the full extent of this administration's illegal activity against American citizens.
As Markos notes his column in today's The Hill, the Democrats have a choice of falling for GOP scare tactics one more time, or doing the right thing.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto gave us an idea of the kind of hyperbole we can expect when he warned, "We’re exactly three weeks away from the date when terrorists can be free to make phone calls without fear of being surveilled by U.S. intelligence agencies."
A terrific scare tactic, but dead wrong. No one thinks U.S. intelligence agencies should be denied surveillance capabilities.
The sole issue is whether outlaw telecommunications companies should be given a pass on their illegal behavior. And since President Bush has threatened to veto any FISA legislation without telco amnesty, it’s clear that he’s more concerned about Verizon’s checkbook than he is about our nation’s security.
Too bad Bush’s love is unrequited. Many FISA wiretaps were recently pulled by the supposedly heroic telcos because of the government’s failure to pay its phone bills.
The news that the telcos pulled their wiretaps because the weren't getting paid reveals two truths: the telcos aren't great patriots doing their duty for national security--they're greedy and willing to break the law if they can boost the bottom line; the Bush administration doesn't care enough about national security to pay the freaking bill for it and is using this issue as yet another bludgeon to beat up on Democrats.
Too many times we've seen the Dems capitulate at the mere threat of that bludgeon. It doesn't need to happen again, because that fear is baseless. Consider this recently release poll commissioned by the ACLU, (via Greenwald):
Majorities of voters on both sides of the political spectrum oppose key provisions in President Bush's proposal to modify foreign surveillance laws that could ensnare Americans, according to a poll released Tuesday.
The survey shows nearly two-thirds of poll respondents say the government should be required to get an individual warrant before listening in on conversations between US citizens and people abroad. Close to six in 10 people oppose an administration proposal to allow intelligence agencies to seek "blanket warrants" that would let them eavesdrop of foreigners for up to a year no additional judicial oversight required if the foreign suspect spoke to an American. And a majority are against a plan to give legal immunity to telecommunications companies that facilitated the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping.
"Across the board, we find opposition to the administration's FISA agenda," pollster Mark Mellman said Tuesday.
Last month, we generated over half a million calls and e-mails to Senate offices in support of Senator Dodd's filibuster of telco amnesty. We need to double that number this week. We need to tell our Senators that we stand with the majority of Americans in opposition to amnesty, and they should be more afraid of us voters than of a lame duck, failing president.
Particularly, those calls need to go to our presidential candidates. Again, Greenwald has details:
The three leading recipients of telecom money for this election cycle are, unsurprisingly, the three sitting Senators running for President (with two Democratic members who are key to amnesty -- Jay Rockefeller and Rahm Emanuel -- close behind). That's how "Washington works" -- the process they are all pledging to battle and change. Needless to say, all of the viable GOP presidential candidates will be blindly supportive of whatever surveillance powers and lawbreaking immunity the President demands, but thus far, Obama and (less emphatically) Clinton have both claimed that they oppose such measures and thus pledged to support a Dodd-led filibuster.
Clinton and Obama have reiterated that opposition this week in response to Markos's inquiries. But the Senators need to do more than issue statements. They need to take a break from their campaigns and spend a few days actually on the job that they currently have--that means physically standing with Chris Dodd in support of his filibuster. You can urge them to do that with this page set up by Working Assets. Matt Browner-Hamlin has more on that campaign.
Call or e-mail the Presidential candidates. Spend a few minutes of the time you would have spent squabbling about the campaign in some diary here on sending an e-mail, making a phone call. Contact the Presidential candidates and call and e-mail your Senators. Tell them to stand with the majority of the American people who demand accountability.