Friday, June 20, 2008

FISA compromise passes House

The House passed the FISA compromise.

The House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a bill overhauling the rules on the government’s wiretapping powers and conferring what amounts to legal immunity to the telephone companies that took part in President Bush’s program of eavesdropping without warrants after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Note that the NY Times, in its opening paragraph on the story, describes the compromise for the telecoms as "legal immunity." In a sense, that's good, because it's clear that that is the story in the mainstream media. At least they're calling it what it is.

I haven't been following this all that closely, because it is horrendously technical, and I could have really been dragged deep into it, which I don't have time for. I make one distinction that no one else seems to be making: there is a difference between the legal and the political aspects of this. Whether or not the telecoms broke the law is a legal question; whether or not they should be granted immunity is a politcal one. With this bill, the question of whether or not the telecoms broke the law will be decided in the courts, which is as it should be, since this is a legal question. So I agree with that.

As for the rest of it, I'm not enough of a lawyer or expert on this to pass judgment. I do like this:

as Nancy Pelosi insisted, it needed to be established that the FISA law was the only way to legally wiretap an individual--in other words, under this law the Executive can't just go ahead and do it.
I trust Nancy Pelosi's judgment on that.

I'm sure the rest of it has lots of things that I don't like. If the Bush Administration is even remotely happy, and the ACLU is seriously unhappy, something's wrong. But, as Joe Klein puts it,

I favor the compromise because I believe the civil liberties encoded into the law are important, and because I wanted to deprive the Bush Administration, and the McCain campaign, of the political bludgeon.
It makes me very uncomfortable to be thinking of this in political terms - i.e., thank God the Republicans can't accuse the Democrats of being "soft on terror." I tend to agree with the Kossacks, who have been leading the charge on this one, that Democrats should not be afraid of Republicans on this issue, and they should not be afraid to put principles first.

But I also want to get to the point where the Democrats do not have to worry about Republican attacks on them for being "soft on terror."

As I expected, I'm mostly with Obama on this one.

"It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives - and the liberty - of the American people."
The one glimmer of hope that I have in this debate is that next year, when and if Republicans are not in power, they are going to be much, much more skeptical of the power of the government. That is the one lesson that I take away from this.

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