Thursday, August 23, 2007

Clearly Criminal

The invaluable Glenn Greenwald posts today in about the blatant and blatantly unconstitutional Bush administration/NSA lawbreaking with regard to warrantless wiretapping of American citizens and ignoring the FISA court and the restrictions of the act. He points out, rightly, that the issue really is very simple: The president has broken the law, overtly and repeatedly, and continues to break the law, with the complicity of Congress and the apparent blessing of much of the media. Here's Glenn:

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell yesterday gave a strange and rambling interview concerning the new FISA amendments, and several commentators -- including Spencer Ackerman, Digby and Jeralyn Merritt -- have discussed various oddities in what he said. I want to focus on a different, and I think highly revealing, aspect of his remarks.

Unintentionally, McConnell articulated what is an unusually clear and straightforward explanation as to the state of federal law regarding eavesdropping on Americans by our government -- unusually clear particularly for a Bush official, but even in general. McConnell explained:

The reason that the FISA law was passed in 1978 was an arrangement was worked out between the Congress and the administration, we did not want to allow this community to conduct surveillance, electronic surveillance, of Americans for foreign intelligence unless you had a warrant, so that was required.
That is exactly what happened, and the NSA scandal has always been, and always will be, this simple and crystal clear. In 1978, the American people responded to the discovery of decades-long abuses of secret eavesdropping powers by making it a felony for any government official to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant. What McConnell describes an "arrangement worked out between the Congress and the administration" is what most people call a "federal law," but McConnell's basic point -- that "we did not want to allow th[e intelligence] community to conduct surveillance . . . of Americans . . . unless you had a warrant, so that was required" -- is exactly correct.

But in 2001, George Bush ordered the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans in violation of that very law, and continued to do so for the next five years at least. Bush ordered the NSA to commit felonies; we know that he did so; and nothing has happened. It is and always has been as clear as it is extraordinary.

The thing about this that galls me so is that Congress -- both Republicans and Democrats alike -- is bending over backwards to magically make this all "legal," rather than impeaching and prosecuting the criminal son of a bitch for his crimes. What's worse, is that I have little doubt that they will end up caving to his further demand for retroactive immunity for the telecom companies who assisted the White House in this illegal scheme.

Equally extraordinary is McConnell's admission -- which marks, I believe, the first time this has been acknowledged -- that private telecommunications companies enabled this lawbreaking by giving the administration access to the conversations of Americans with no warrants:

Now the second part of the issue was under the president's program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us. Because if you're going to get access you've got to have a partner and they were being sued.
McConnell went on to explain that the number one priority for the administration regarding FISA now is to demand that Congress make further FISA revisions by providing retroactive immunity to the telecom companies to ensure that there are no consequences from their breaking of the law:
Now if you play out the suits at the value they're claimed, it would bankrupt these companies. So my position was we have to provide liability protection to these private sector entities. So that was part of the request. . . .

The issue that we did not address, which has to be addressed is the liability protection for the private sector now is proscriptive, meaning going forward. We've got a retroactive problem. When I went through and briefed the various senators and congressmen, the issue was alright, look, we don't want to work that right now, it's too hard because we want to find out about some issues of the past. So what I recommended to the administration is, 'Let's take that off the table for now and take it up when Congress reconvenes in September.' . . . No, the retroactive liability protection has got to be addressed.

Think about how amazing this is. McConnell clearly described that in 1978, we enacted a law prohibiting warrantless eavesdropping; the Bush administration broke that law repeatedly; and the telecommunications companies actively participated in that lawbreaking. And now -- as a matter of national security -- the Bush administration is demanding that Congress pass a new law declaring that telecom companies are immune from any and all consequences -- both civil and criminal -- in the event they are found to have violated the law. It is hard to imagine open contempt for the rule of law being expressed more explicitly than this.

What possible reason is there to protect anyone -- including telecom companies -- with a special law enacted to declare that they are relieved of all accountability for illegal behavior? And the premise of this argument is even more dangerous than the conclusion: it is all premised on the claim that these companies were only acting at the behest of George Bush, and therefore were entitled, even obligated, to do what they did. In other words, the President has the power to order private actors to break the law and when those orders are obeyed, the private actors are immune from the consequences of their lawbreaking, because they acted at the Leader's behest.

There's plenty more, and I urge you to read the whole thing. It should no longer be a surprise just how far we've come from the ideal of an America that values the rule of law to a nation run by outright criminals, aided and abetted by legislators we've elected and the supposed "free" press (and don't even talk to me about the canard of the press being "liberal" -- that's another story, and one that smells too much of horseshit for me to go near any more), but every so often I am flabbergasted anew by the sheer nerve of these rat bastards and their contempt for the Constitution, the law and the American people. Goddamn, I hate this current governement.
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