Crossed-posted at EENR.
While the corporate punditry is distracted by the flap over Geraldine Ferraro’s comments about Barack Obama and the sex scandal plaguing soon-to-be-former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, the battle over FISA continues as U.S. dictator George W. Bush threatens to veto a House bill over the issue of retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that helped him break the law. According to Reuters:
Bush is seeking immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in his warrantless domestic spying program after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001 and are now facing lawsuits.
The House legislation, scheduled for a vote later on Thursday, would allow phone companies to present their defense behind closed doors in federal court, with the judge given access to confidential government documents about eavesdropping begun after the September 11 attacks.
But the shrub is not satisfied with even this charade, instead selfishly insisting that telecommunications companies be granted full immunity from all lawsuits in addition to immunity from prosecution. He also demands that all immunity be retroactive, so that he and his co-conspirators may avoid prosecution for past violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
FISA was originally passed by Congress in 1978, following the revelations of illegal spying by president Richard Nixon during his tenure earlier in the decade. The thirty-seventh president had resigned in 1974 ahead of impeachment proceedings for having violated the law and the Constitution. FISA was designed to limit the scope of executive power to eavesdrop on American citizens.
The shrub has claimed unchecked power to spy on Americans in the name of fighting terrorists, but has consistently failed to provide any substantive evidence to show that his violations of FISA have actually prevented terrorist attacks on the U.S. FISA requires that the federal government obtain warrants from a special court in order to conduct surveillance on foreign nationals. The FISA court, which grants 99% of all warrants applied for, was amended in 1994 so the federal government may spy for up to seventy-two hours before having to apply for a warrant.
But even this proved insufficient for the shrub’s demands. An exposé by the New York Times in December of 2005 revealed some of the extent of Bush’s lawbreaking. Last year, Congress — by then under Democratic Party rule yet still caving in to the shrub’s demands — passed the unlawful “Protect” America Act, which violates the Fourth Amendment right against illegal searches and seizures by the government. The act expired in early February, but all illegal surveillance ordered in that six-month period is still able to be carried out with no hope of prosecution against abuses.
Last month, Senate capitulation leader Harry Reid succeeded in passing a bill that grants the retroactive immunity demanded by Bush. It has since been tied up in the House of Representatives, but immunity is likely to pass that body in some form despite public efforts to pressure Congress not to allow any such amnesty.
Amnesty for telecommunications companies means that in any official investigation, persons involved would have no incentive to cooperate with authorities or turn over evidence. This means that, in the highly unlikely event Congress upholds its Constitutional duty to impeach Bush for high crimes, those in a position to provide testimony or evidence have no reason to cooperate.