Monday, August 06, 2007

Congress Violates Constitution Again

Bush Plays Fear Card, Democrats Fold

Just before going on vacation Congressional Jellyfish Democrats passed amendments to the FISA ( Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ) legislation that requires the administration to obtain a warrant before tapping your phone.
From TPM Muckraker:
"By now you've probably heard that the House and Senate passed bills that gutted FISA. The bills, supported unanimously by Republicans* and a handful of Democrats in both houses, categorically exclude from FISA court oversight all surveillance "directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States."
The New York Times reported on the way this went down. Essentially, the administration used the tactic they have deployed so often and so effectively since 9/11/01 - just say boo! and watch their opposition jump out of their skins attempting to comply with the most egregious handover of power in American history.
The House Democratic leadership had severe reservations about the proposal and an overwhelming majority of Democrats opposed it. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the measure “does violence to the Constitution of the United States.

But with the Senate already in recess, Democrats confronted the choice of allowing the administration’s bill to reach the floor and be approved mainly by Republicans or letting it die.

If it had stalled, that would have left Democratic lawmakers, long anxious about appearing weak on national security issues, facing an August spent fending off charges from Republicans that they had left Americans exposed to threats.
In case you didn't already know, amendments to FISA were the chief concern of the USA PATRIOT act, so this is really the second time the law has been re-written to suit Bush's unwillingness to accept any limitations to his power. Marty Lederman pointed out some of the bill's flaws at Balkinization.
Before the vote, the head of the Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, "excoriated" the White House bill, saying it "provides a weak and practically nonexistent court review."
The DNI and AG would also have to certify (page 3) that a "significant purpose" of this new, non-FISA-compliant surveillance "is to obtain foreign intelligence information." This doesn't exclude the possibility that another purpose -- another significant or predominant purpose, even -- could be to obtain information not related to "foreign intelligence." Moreover, there would be no real way of enforcing even this modest certification requirement. It would come before the FISA Court, if at all, only indirectly, if someone receiving an order for assistance -- i.e., a serivce provider -- challenges the legality of the directive they've received, in which case a FISA judge must determine whether the directive to the service provider is unlawful (page 7).
So, effectively the only review that will be conducted on administration wiretaps from now on will be by Attorney General Alberto 'not so speedy' Gonzales. Can anybody think of why we shouldn't be OK with that arrangement?

* - TPM corrected that statement about there being no Republicans opposing the bill. Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Tim Johnson (R-IL) voted against. The 'handful' of Democrats in support? 41 in the House and 15 (plus Independent Joe LIEberman) in the Senate. Spineless bastards! When are they going to learn that when the choice comes of whether to look soft on terrorism or just plain soft in the head, they should choose the former?

RELATED STORIES: Station Agent has THIS STORY today about just how secret the NSA wiretapping program is. Glenn Greenwald and others have pointed out that no substantial details about the program have come to light since it was first revealed in Dec. 2005. Glenn outlines the Democrats' spineless complicity here, and talks to Chris Dodd about restoring constitutional protections here. We all know the consequences if someone doesn't step up to oppose Bush's megalomania.
As the Man Himself Said,

(I think he might have meant it.)

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