by John Adams
The US House of Representatives is right to reject the Administration’s cynically crafted version of the extension of the FISA amendment, the so-called Protect America Act of 2007.
Rather, our House acted wisely in passing its own version of the extension, which deletes immunity from prosecution for telecommunication providers who abetted secret and illegal wiretapping and internet monitoring.
As citizens, we must stiffen Congress’ resolve to defend our Constitution against continued assaults by the Bush Administration. Until their illegal activities were exposed by diligent investigative journalism in December 2005, the Bush Administration surreptitiously co-opted telecommunications providers to spy on both foreign and American phone calls and emails, operating under the provisions of a secret Executive Order signed by President Bush.
The Administration’s version of the FISA law extension would have precluded the filing of lawsuits against the telecommunications companies, essentially preventing any discovery in litigation into the Administration’s illegal spying activities. In contrast, the House version of the FISA amendment extension allows citizens the opportunity to bring suits before the court against these telecommunications companies for their clandestine cooperation with the Administration.
We should applaud the House for crafting a bill that will allow Americans to discover – in court -- more about the Administration’s flouting of our constitutional rights.
The fight between the Bush Administration and Congress over the Protect America Act (and its predecessor, the Patriot Act) is deceptively framed as a battle over the imperative of protecting our country from overseas threats. Instead, the struggle exemplifies the Bush Administration’s assault on real national security – our Constitutional liberties.
We have suffered much from terrorists -- certainly, we must confront Al Qaeda and their ilk. But in their assault upon the people of the United States, Al-Qaeda is abetted by those in this Administration who exploit the American people’s fears and demand the surrender of our most treasured liberties.
We stand at a crossroads in the defense of our Constitution, and in the defense of our real national security interests, as the henchmen who control our national security apparatus, both military and civilian, assiduously harness modern information technology to gain ever greater access to our privacy.
Administration officials, and the appointed heads of our intelligence bureaucracy, argue that the terrorist threat justifies the use of ever more powerful technologies to conduct ever more intrusive domestic monitoring, and therefore the government must exercise that capability.
The bare truth is that this Administration exploits the fear of terrorism to gain greater control over our intelligence and national security apparatus.
Still, the Administration sets the conditions for even greater abuses of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to our Constitution. The Administration argues that the FISA law dating from the 1970s is obsolete, citing among other justifications that contemporary computer data-mining and traffic analysis techniques did not exist then. The truth is that behind closed doors, the Administration crafts a policy supporting the technology of intrusion.
The Administration’s perverse argument goes like this: because there now exist more effective techniques of intrusion, we should change the law to enable their employment. It is worth noting that the stakes are huge for the profits of corporations that depend on the further development and employment of the new intrusion technologies. However, as citizens, we should be most concerned with the erosion of our basic rights.
Truly, the long-term damage to our rights are yet to come, as a generation of right-wing judicial appointees create their legacies over the next decades, promising to weaken the process of judicial review of such Executive Branch abuses. This President and his Administration’s officials, who have taken an oath to protect the Constitution, are in truth spying on the American people, and violating the Constitution they purport to protect.
The strength of the United States derives from our constitutional processes, the respect we have for our own system, and the credibility and inspiration our example provides to less fortunate nations. A Commander-in-Chief who runs roughshod over Congress, demanding blind obedience from the American people because only he and his henchmen know best, damages our national unity as well as our reputation as a nation of law and democracy.
Truly, the protection of our national security includes many factors, not least of which is the people’s trust in the process of intelligence surveillance. There must also be credibility that intrusions into the long-cherished rights of a free population will be proportionate and reasoned. Without that trust and credibility, we breed domestic insecurity and international condemnation.
One of our wisest Constitutional framers, Benjamin Franklin, said: “Those who would give up essential liberty in order to purchase temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Our liberties are not negotiable. They have been paid for by the blood of more than two centuries of genuine American patriots. It would be unconscionable for us to mortgage our constitutional heritage of liberty in order to placate the charlatans and criminals of this Administration who cynically claim they want to protect us from terrorism.
In hijacking our Constitution, this Administration and the technological goons who abet them deserve our scorn. Real national security for our country -- the defense of our Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic -- demands that Congress stand fast in opposing the Administration’s self-serving constitutional mayhem, and stand by their wise version of the extension of the so-called Protect America Act of 2007.