Mar 142008

Well, the House seems to be sticking to their guns, and not passing a FISA bill that will grant immunity to the telecom industry for illegal spying. This is critically important, because it’s the last best hope to have the illegal surveillance activities of the current Cheney Administration see the light of day.

During a press conference on February 28, George Bush finally went rogue on Dick, and accidentally told the truth about the reason for telecom immunity.

Allowing the lawsuits to proceed could aid our enemies, because the litigation process could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance.

The part about aiding our enemies is the usual administration fear mongering BS, but the rest reveals a truth that Dick probably didn’t want exposed.

The truth is that Federal Courts receive and rule on secret and classified information on a fairly regular basis, and those secrets seem better kept than most of the Administration’s secrets (when it suits them to harm someone they don’t like…see Valery Plame). The FISA law provided for those procedures a long time ago, and they have worked just fine. When FISA was originally passed by Congress, they knew that preventing courts from ever having access to anything deemed “secret” would allow government officials to break any laws their little hearts desired, and then just declare it related to national security.

The real reason the Cheney Administration doesn’t want a court to ever hear a telecom spying case is because those lawsuits are the absolute last hope for ever learning what the administration did when they spied on Americans for years in violation of the law. Dismissing the cases based on a grant of amnesty would ensure that their spying activities stay concealed, buried forever, and just as important, that no court ever rules on the legality of what they did.

It amazes me how this aspect of telecom amnesty is never discussed, and how little interest it generates among journalists — whose role, theoretically, is to uncover secret government actions?

The last time the news media seemed to give this any great attention was last May when former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified about the melodramatic hospital scene where John Ashcroft refused the demands of Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to authorize whatever it was the President’s domestic spying program entailed. But according to a story by Glenn Greenwald:”

The most significant revelation from Comey’s testimony was — and still is — that the administration was engaged in spying activities back then so patently illegal and unconscionable that the entire top level of the DOJ threatened to resign if they continued.

Let’s remember, John Ashcroft and the political appointees at the DOJ were far right Bushies. Given that, how bad did the spying have to be for even this bunch of neocons to blanch at the abuse of power? Former OLC official Marty Lederman perfectly described the unanswered questions about Bush’s domestic spying programs raised by the Comey testimony — questions that are still unanswered:

If [the TSP is] the narrow version of the NSA program, just how broad and indiscriminate was the surveillance under the program that Ashcroft, et al. would not approve? . . .

This is the real heart of the Comey story — What happened between September 2001 and October 2003, before Comey and Goldmsith came aboard? Just how radical were the Administration’s legal judgments? How extreme were the programs they implemented? How egregious was the lawbreaking?

If Congress grants the telecoms amnesty, we will never know. As Greenwald goes on to note:

The number two official at the Justice Department openly reveals that the President — with the active, knowing collaboration of the telecom industry — was breaking the law so severely for years that it was about to provoke mass resignations from his loyal right-wing appointees, and we all just collectively yawn, blissfully content not to know what they did.

The telecom lawsuits are the last hope for finding any of this out. They’re the last hope for ever having this still-secret behavior subjected to the rule of law and enabling the American people to learn about what their Government did for years in illegally spying on them. That’s why — the only real reason — the White House is so desperate for telecom amnesty. That’s what George Bush means when he says that amnesty is urgent “because the litigation process could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance.” In a functioning democracy, when high political officials break the law, such behavior is actually supposed to be “disclosed,” not concealed.

The Press, the only “group” offered special dispensation and protection under the U.S. Constitution, are standing idly by, while this Administration dismantles a 240 year old democracy.

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