Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Senator Chris Dodd Stands Up Against Telecom Immunity and Presidential Lawlessness

Thanks to Glenn Greenwald for his indefatigable work on this issue. --RB
video available at url above
June 24, 2008
Chris Dodd's Speech on Telecom immunity etc.

Remarks as Prepared - Mr. President: I rise—once again—to voice my strong opposition to the misguided FISA legislation before us today. I have strong reservations about the so-called improvements made to Title I. But more than that, this legislation includes provisions which would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that apparently have violated the privacy and the trust of millions of Americans by participating in the president’s warrantless wiretapping program. If we pass this legislation, the Senate will ratify a domestic spying regime that has already concentrated far too much unaccountable power in the president’s hands and will place the telecommunications companies above the law.

I am here today to implore my colleagues to vote against cloture in the morning.

And let me make clear, at the outset of this debate, that this is not about domestic surveillance itself. We all recognize the importance of domestic surveillance – in an age of unprecedented threats. This is about illegal, unwarranted, unchecked domestic surveillance.

And that difference—the difference between surveillance that is lawful, warranted and that which is not—is everything.

Mr. President, I had hoped I would not have to return to this floor again under these circumstances – hoped that in these negotiations we would have been able to turn aside retroactive immunity on the grounds that it is bad policy and sets a terrible precedent.

As all of my colleagues know, I have long fought against retroactive immunity, because I believe, quite simply, it is an abandonment of the rule of law. I’ve fought this with everything I had in me—and I haven’t waged this fight alone.

In December, I opposed retroactive immunity on the Senate floor. I spent ten hours on this floor then. In January and February, I came to the floor time and time again to discuss the dangers of granting retroactive immunity. Along with my colleague and friend Russ Feingold, who has shown remarkable leadership on this issue, I offered an amendment that would have stripped retroactive immunity from the Senate bill. Unfortunately, our amendment failed and to my extreme disappointment, the Senate adopted the underlying bill.

Since passage of the Senate bill, there has been extensive negotiations on how to move forward. Today, we are being asked to pass the so-called compromise that was reached by some of our colleagues and approved by the House of Representatives.

I am here today to say that I will not and cannot support this legislation. It goes against everything I have stood for – everything this body ought to stand for.

There is no question some improvements have been made over the previous versions of this bill. Title I, which regulates the ability of the government to conduct electronic surveillance, has indeed been improved. Albeit modestly. In fact, it is my hope that a new Congress and a new President will work together to fix the problems with Title I should the Senate adopt this new legislation.

But in no way is this compromise acceptable, Mr. President. This legislation before us purports to give the courts more of a role in determining the legality of the telecommunications companies actions. But in my view the Title II provisions do little more than ensure without a doubt that the telecommunications companies will be granted retroactive immunity.

Allow me to quote the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the matter. It reads:

Beginning soon after September 11, 2001, the Executive branch provided written requests or directives to U.S. electronic communication service providers to obtain their assistance with communications intelligence activities that had been authorized by the President.

… The letters were provided to electronic communication service providers at regular intervals. All of the letters stated that the activities had been authorized by the President. All of the letters also stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Attorney General, except for one letter that covered a period of less than sixty days. That letter, which like all the others stated that the activities had been authorized by the President, stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Counsel to the President.

Under the legislation before us, the district court would simply decide whether or not the telecommunication companies received documentation stating that the President authorized the program and that there had been some sort of determination that it was legal.

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