Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sellout on Telecom Immunity

If you recall, the issue of telecom immunity was the first War on Terror related issue that the Democratic congress stood up to Bush on. Alas, the Democratic congress has caved to the our lame-duck president and his lackeys. From the Obsidian Wings:
[T]he telcos are getting immunity and everyone knows it. They literally only have to show that the Bush administration sent them a letter. That’s it. Show the letter, and you’re immune — no discovery, no nuthin'. (As I've said, I don’t care that much about punishing telcos, I care about generating information through discovery).

However, instead of just admitting that they caved, the Dem leaders are pretending like they’ve instituted tough new standards by requiring a district court to make the final decision. Thus, they’re essentially doing two things: (1) lying about what they’re doing, and (2) shifting blame to a politically unaccountable branch of government.

So... telecoms are given immunity for having broken the law, just so long as they can prove the executive of the US asked them to do it. In short, corporate lawbreaking is ok, so long as it is in the service of the imperial executive.
What is most disheartening is how successfully the President has shielded the massive spying program from being brought to light. It couldn't have been done without Bush's Republican henchmen and the support from much of the "opposition" party. More from the Obsidian Wings:
To recap: there are some minor fixes to the FISA law that everyone agrees should be adopted. The sticking point is whether companies that helped the government engage in surveillance that broke the law should receive immunity for their actions. It seems to me clear that the answer is 'no'. First, people who break the law should be held accountable. Second, we're not talking about some private citizen who might understandably have been inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt on questions of law, but about large companies with serious legal departments. Third, since our government does not seem inclined to tell us exactly what it has been doing, discovery in these lawsuits has been about the only way in which we have found out anything at all. Shutting down these lawsuits might prevent us from ever finding out.

Most importantly, though, when the government asks someone to break the law, they hold a lot of the cards: the prestige of the Presidency, the power to exclude companies from federal contracts, and so on. Just about the only reason someone might have to say no, other than conscience, is the fear of legal liability. By immunizing these companies, we make it much more likely that the next time some President who thinks he has dictatorial powers asks a company to break the law, it will do so. And that's just wrong.

Why has Democratic leadership sided with the Whitehouse? I can only speculate. Is it telecom money? Both parties are easily influenced by money, so perhaps, the telecoms, seeing the way the wind is blowing, hedged their bets. Perhaps it was sheer political cowardice... the Dems still afraid of looking weak on the question of terror. Or maybe, the Democratic leadership has been complicit in Bush's spying program, and believes that the courts bringing out such information would be politically damaging. Whatever the reason, this "compromise" is shameful.
One of my greatest hopes for the Obama administration is that they will be able to investigate the abuses of the last four years (unlike a McCain administration, which would sweep all of this under the rug). Unfortunately, Obama supported the cave-in on this issue. This does not bode well.

No comments: