20 February 2008

If Telecom Amnesty Passes

Here is a comment I made yesterday in response to Glenn Greenwald's post on the current situation surrounding lawsuits over the government's illegal surveillance programs:

Target: Jello

If Congress caves and retroactive immunity does indeed get passed, then I think we need to bombard Jello Jay relentlessly to force him to hold hearings on both the NSA program and on whatever program it was that led to the threats of resignation. If the full committee is involved, I'd even be fine with the bulk of the testimony being behind closed doors.

What I'm talking about is a completely focused and unrelenting campaign aimed at Rockefeller alone. Hundreds of calls to his office. Every day. Hundreds of faxes. Every day. Pickets everywhere he goes. Every day. Ads in his local paper. Ads on his local TV. Letters to newspapers all over the nation, holding Rockefeller personally responsible for not getting to the bottom of what the country has done. Maybe even a "countdown clock" until the next election when he can be turned out into the streets.

He has the power to convene these hearings. If immunity passes,
we need to make his life a living hell until he does just that.

Here is a portion of the opening statement made by Senator Rockefeller on May 1, 2007 as he began a hearing on the revisions to FISA:

The purpose of today's hearing is to enable the administration to explain to the Senate and to the American people as openly as possible the reasons why public law on these vital matters should be changed.

I would like to make a few observations about the administration's legislative proposal before us.

One part of the administration's bill proposes to terminate controversies now in litigation in various courts arising from the warrantless surveillance program that the president has labeled "the Terrorist Surveillance Program." It would bar any lawsuit against any person for the alleged provision to any element of the intelligence community's information or assistance for any alleged communications intelligence activity.

Under the administration's proposal, this immunity provision would be limited to alleged assistance from September 11th, 2001, to 90 days after enactment of any change in the law, were there to be one. We will carefully examine this immunity process and proposal and possible alternatives to it --it is not without controversy -- as we will all sections of the administration bill. But I do believe that the administration is going to have to do its part, too.

The vice chairman and I have stressed to the administration repeatedly that the committee must receive complete information about the president's surveillance program in order to consider legislation in this area. This is a matter of common sense -- cannot legislate in the blind. We have made some progress towards that end, but there are key pieces of requested information that the committee needs and has not yet received.

These include the president's authorizations for the program, and the Department of Justice's opinion on the legality of the program. My request for these documents is over a year in length, and Vice Chairman Bond and I restated the importance of receiving these documents in our March letter, that in fact called this hearing. The administration's delay in providing these basic documents is incomprehensible, I think, inexcusable, and serves only to hamper the committee's ability to consider the liability of the Defense proposal before it -- inadequate information.

Congress is being asked to enact legislation that brings to end lawsuits that allege violations of the rights of Americans. In considering that request, it is essential that the committee know whether all involved, government officials and anyone else, relied on sound, legal conclusions of the government's highest law officer. The opinions of the attorney general are not just private advice. They are an authoritative statement of law within the executive branch.

Rockefeller makes a few relevant points in his statement, but he has fallen woefully short in his followup to it. He was taking the administration to task for not sharing information with his committee in a timely way. Information eventually was shared, but only at the last minute and under very bad conditions.

More importantly, Rockefeller has stopped all oversight at the point of simply receiving a set of documents. There is no evidence that he has made any effort to determine whether the justifications provided for the wiretapping program were indeed legal. Because of his prominent role in achieving the retroactive immunity provision in the bill passed by the Senate, I think it is Rockefeller's personal responsibility, if immunity is signed into law, to call new hearings and to completely pursue the issue of legality of the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" and to turn over to law enforcement all evidence he obtains of lawbreaking. It is the least he can do, because his actions in assuring retroactive immunity have blocked the best pathways for exposure of lawbreaking.

Hearings of this sort are certainly not something that Rockefeller will do on his own. It will be up to citizens to force him to exercise his role as Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to assure the citizens that the actions taken by our intelligence agencies are subject to the rule of law and that lawbreakers are punished.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jim!!! Did you see my comment I left at Glenn's about how well you did the other am on CSPAN? You really rocked it.

Email me at paddykraska at hotmail dot com. Have you spoken to Matt B-H yet about your idea?

Jim White said...

Thanks, paddy, but I think you are remembering comments bamage made. I'll try to get something to Matt tomorrow.