Democrats Sell Immunity to Telecom Corps

UPDATE: Dodd Puts Hold on FISA Bill (details below)

Democracy in the US is dead.

As of today, we are officially owned and operated by the plutocrats of the American corporatocracy. Bush sold them the govt and Democrats have sold them the Congress. We the People no longer have any representation to speak of. Elections are rigged, votes bought and sold, programs and agencies disemboweled, and no matter how big the numbers against it all or how loud we scream about it, the White House and the Congress go right ahead and do what they’re told by their bosses – who are no longer us.

If ever a bill cried out for a principled stand protecting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the FISA bill is that bill. Defeating it should have been a priority for anyone who values our traditional American heritage of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It takes the fundamental protections of the Fourth Amendment and throws them out the window in a secret deal done at midnight behind closed doors like some banana republic. Then it immunizes the corporations that have violated the law from any legal accountability for breaking that law despite the fact that the law in question was specifically written to prevent such immunity.

Why are they doing this? Because Bush Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, a Cheney Pal and once a lobbyist for the very same telecom corps currently on trial – the guy in charge of talking Congress into giving the telecoms immunity – told them to. Did any Democrat bother to mention McConnell’s ties to the companies he was trying to protect from accountability? They did not. Did they point out that sending McConnell to lobby for this bill as a supposedly “public” official was a rank case of conflict-of-interest? Of course not.

Why didn’t they mention this unethical behavior? Because Democrat Jay Rockefeller, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has received $hundreds of thousands$ in campaign contributions from telecom companies, including AT&T, which is about to go to trial over its FISA law-breaking, and he made sure immunity was part of the new package in order to protect that $$$.

But the most frightening and undemocratic feature of the whole sorry tale is the excuse the Democratic majority accepted for the collective corporate criminality of the telecoms: “The President ordered us to do it.”

The most obvious reason that this rationale is a travesty of course has to do with the fact that it ratifies the Bush Power Grab and makes the Constitutional separation of powers doctrine obsolete. They have just given the president the legal power to act like a King by authorizing any order from him as having the force of law whether the Congress has acted on it or not. In one fell swoop, the Democratic majority has certified dictatorship and rendered the Constitution irrelevant.

And yet there is an even greater evil here. During the Nuremberg Trials we explicitly rejected the Nazi plaintiffs’ defense that they weren’t guilty because “they were only following orders”. In one of our finest hours, we insisted that an individual’s duty to humanity over-rode his duty to his superiors or his government. We even enshrined that doctrine in our military rulebook, the UCMJ, making it the duty of every soldier to disobey any order from a superior that violated international law or human rights. We affirmed that stance as recently as the tribunals that sent Abu Ghraib’s military interrogators to jail when judges rejected their defense that they “were ordered” to do what they did – which they were.

Yet on behalf of McConnell’s and Rockefeller’s corporate bosses, we have now accepted the Nazi plaintiffs’ defense: “The dictator president ordered us to do it” is now sufficient to excuse illegal corporate behavior that is blatantly unConstitutional and violates a law passed specifically to punish it.

In such circumstances, both the Constitution and the body of laws emanating from it must be considered by Democrats – as well as Republicans, who showed their contempt for the Fourth Amendment in ’96 when Democrats filed it as a bill without identifying it and the Republican majority rejected it en masse without debate – to be no longer functional. There’s simply no other credible explanation for their decision.

The Senate bill has yet to come up for a vote but recent Congressional history tells us it will be pro-forma. There will be the standard disclaimers, passionate speeches against it from a few Democrats not yet convinced that the Constitution is dead, and then the bill will pass. When it does, the Republicrats will have what they wanted all along – a president with the powers of a monarch.

There is one slim hope left. Glenn Greenwald points to it in today’s post.

To his credit, Chris Dodd has been, by far, the most vocal Democratic presidential candidate on the issues of executive power abuses and restoring our constitutional framework. Unsurprisingly, he has issued a very strong condemnation of telecom amnesty along with a vow to try to stop it:

While the President may think that it’s right to offer immunity to those who break the law and violate the right to privacy of thousands of law-abiding Americans, I want to assure him it is not a value we have in common and I hope the same can be said of my fellow Democrats in the Senate.For too long we have failed to respect the rule of law and failed to protect our fundamental civil liberties. I will do what I can to see to it that no telecommunications giant that was complicit in this Administration’s assault on the Constitution is given a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The vow to “do what [he] can” to stop amnesty is interesting. Big Tent Democrat suggests he lead a filibuster to stop it (h/t Atrios), but I doubt, given Rockefeller’s support, that they could get anywhere near the 40 votes necessary to sustain that. Dodd could, however, place a “hold” on any bill containing amnesty and prevent it from reaching the floor for a vote: “Senate tradition allows any senator to keep a piece of legislation from reaching the Senate floor by placing a hold on the bill.” That is what Sen. Wyden did previously to prevent a vote on an anti-net-neutrality bill.

(emphasis added)

It would be the most praise-worthy act of Dodd’s life. The question is: Will a long-time insider defy his own party to act unilaterally? Dodd’s past offers no clear answer. It’s true that he’s been an occasional maverick, but it’s also true that it’s never been over anything that truly threatened his stature.

That’s a mighty thin reed to hang a whole democracy on.

Update: The “thin reed” stood tall.

Senator Chris Dodd plans to put a hold on the Senate FISA renewal bill because it reportedly grants retroactive immunity to telephone companies for any role they played in the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program, Election Central has learned.

Dodd will send a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this afternoon informing him of his decision. Dodd also plans to put up a page today at his campaign Web site where opponents of the immunity provision can register their opposition.


By doing this, Dodd can effectively hold up the telecom immunity bill, because bills are supposed to have unanimous consent in the Senate before going forward. One Senator can make it very difficult to bring a bill to the floor by objecting to allowing it to go to a vote.

Finally, a gutsy, pro-democracy, pro-Constitution act from a Democrat. We’re hardly out of the woods but Dodd’s courage just made the backroom deal with the White House harder to pass and impossible to pass under cover of darkness.

One Response to “Democrats Sell Immunity to Telecom Corps”

  1. Fabio Turel says:

    I’m following this debate with great interest. I really hope that we all manage to increase public awareness about the importance of the role played by telecommunications in a modern democracy.

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