Monday, January 14, 2008

Just Say "No" to Immunity

What better time than today to honor the life of Martin Luther King, and by remembering something he once said: "Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal." Yes, and think about this: everything President George W. Bush is doing today will someday be legal if members of Congress don't act, and act quickly, to ensure that doesn't happen.

Dr. King's words especially resonate in light of the fact that the Senate will take up the contentious issue of how to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act when they reconvene this week.

When an insidious measure which allows for warrantless eavesdropping on citizens' phonecalls and emails, legislation ironically called the Protect America Act was scheduled to sunset, this fall, the Senate Intelligence Committee passed a measure which would require court review whenever an American citizen is targeted for surveillance anywhere in the world. The amended measure passed the Senate Intelligence Committee by a wide margin.

Importantly, though, the issue of immunity from prosecution for telecommunication behemoths, like AT & T, who broke privacy laws by turning over consumer information to the government was not addressed by the Senate Judiciary Committtee. And, before any new FISA measure passes the Senate, we call upon Senate Majority Leader Reid to stand up to President Bush, and refuse to allow immunity to be written into any amendment to the Protect America Act.

More and more, lately, we hear of government officials insisting upon immunity before they appear before congressional committees investigating wrongdoing. Just last week, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., was scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, and agreed to do so only on condition that he be granted immunity.

Mr. Rodriguez, former head of the CIA "clandestine service" unit, is alleged to have given the command to destroy hundreds of hours of videotape which might prove that this government, and his bosses, engage in interrogation practices that amount to torture.

You'll recall, too, that the president and vice president have invoked immunity from war crimes charges by passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and now the Justice Department wants retroactive immunity from prosecution granted to telecommunication companies who agreed to break privacy laws, and eavesdrop on millions of consumers personal phone conversations, and emails.

To allow any communication carrier to systematically monitor the conversations of ordinary citizens without a warrant with immunity, and impunity is an insult to the Bill of Rights and national security. Clearly, the framers didn't have selective prosecution in mind when they drafted the Declaration of Independence. Any administration for whom fact is a four letter word must be held accountable, and cannot be allowed to rewrite the law such that their crimes may no longer be prosecuted.

Only a bunch of hardcore mobsters would demand immunity before they testify. Is this what public service has become, just another euphemism for organized crime?

When senators return to work on Tuesday, they need to be reminded of something else Dr. King also said, "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who perpetrates it." And, by extension, he who thinks he can redefine evil such that it can pass itself off as good may delude his peers, but he will never fool history.