It’s Not About Protecting Terrorists

First things first, let’s have a little grade school government recap.  The Legislative branch writes the laws.  The Executive enacts the laws, and wait for it, the Judicial enforces and interprets the laws.  Don’t worry this will come into play a little later on.

I’m about fully disgusted with this entire debate on FISA, and it’s not quite so simple as one may think.  The archetypical roles playing their parts are the obvious; on one side you have those who are opposed to the broad latitude that the current administration is attempting to win for its anti-terrorism programs because they (more accurately, we) feel that it sets a dangerous precedent for infringing upon our civil liberties.  On the other side, you have those who are more than willing to to cede said civil libertes in a compromise to ensure safety against further terrorist attacks.

Not surprisingly, the supporters of the latter are typically the same folks who embody that strange irony wherein their talk is tough and filled with machismo loaded bravado, but their actions and proposals wreak of cowardice.  I’ve no qualms with this assertion, and am not particularly bothered if anyone wishes to accuse me of delivering ad hominems, in this instance, I think they are warranted.

It would be gratuitous to assert that none of this would have happened had 9/11 never occurred, but that is the case, and it is true.  In essence, what has been happening is that those of us who believe that our civil libertes are precious and make up the most basic of ideals of the American fabric are being punished for the actions of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network, or more appropriately, for failures within the administration and the intelligence community that could have easily been rectified without engaging in transgressions against said principles.

But there are other portions of the debate that play directly to where I’m going.  From the Republicans, we see a definite force that has seen anti-terrorism as a winning political issue, and on the Democratic side, there is a reactionary faction that is ready to bow to Republican efforts out of being politically afraid of being labeled weak on terrorism.

The driving force behind this secondary debate is simply fear, or at least it started off as fear; directly following 9/11, along with strong nationalistic sentiment, there was also a heightened willingness to compromise American principles for the sake of making sure that another 9/11 doesn’t happen again.  However, I think it safe to say that over time, the fear principle has turned into one of rhetorical warfare.

In any case, this is the mix that has led to the kind of mess we are currently in now.

Yesterday, writing for the Weekly Standard, Brian Faughnan takes to task Democrats over the recently controversial FISA fight in congress:

House Democrats are shutting down debate to ram through a bill that will ensure repeats of episodes like this one, where U.S. soldiers in Iraq had to wait for hours to search for a missing comrade, while lawyers in Washington prepared a legal brief:

In the early hours of May 12, seven U.S. soldiers–including Spc. Jimenez–were on lookout near a patrol base in the al Qaeda-controlled area of Iraq called the “Triangle of Death.”

Sometime before dawn, heavily armed al Qaeda gunmen quietly cut through the tangles of concertina wire surrounding the outpost of two Humvees and made a massive and coordinated surprise attack.

Four of the soldiers were killed on the spot and three others were taken hostage.

A search to rescue the men was quickly launched. But it soon ground to a halt as lawyers – obeying strict U.S. laws about surveillance – cobbled together the legal grounds for wiretapping the suspected kidnappers.

Starting at 10 a.m. on May 15, according to a timeline provided to Congress by the director of national intelligence, lawyers for the National Security Agency met and determined that special approval from the attorney general would be required first.

For an excruciating nine hours and 38 minutes, searchers in Iraq waited as U.S. lawyers discussed legal issues and hammered out the “probable cause” necessary for the attorney general to grant such “emergency” permission.

Finally, approval was granted and, at 7:38 that night, surveillance began.

And here’s the $64,000 question: why are Democrats closing down all debate? Because they know a majority of the House is against the Democratic leadership on this and other security issues. When the House approved a temporary extension of FISA that was consistent with White House recommendations, 41 Democrats voted with nearly all House Republicans to pass a strong bipartisan bill. Democratic leaders couldn’t allow that to happen again.

We can only hope that the Members of the Rules Committee who imposed this reckless plan to shield terrorists face stiff questions from their constituents. Those members are Jim McGovern (D-MA), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Michael Arcuri (D-NY), and Louise Slaughter (D-NY).

UPDATE: House rules preserve the right of the minority to offer one ‘motion to recommit’ the bill. When that vote comes up, Republicans will call for a vote on whether to amend the bill to include the following simple language:

Nothing in this Act [H.R. 3773] or the amendments made by this Act shall be construed to prohibit the intelligence community (as defined in section 3(4) of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 401a(4))) from conducting surveillance needed to prevent Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or any other foreign terrorist organization designated under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189) from attacking the United States or any United States person.

Do Democrats really want to go on the record shielding terrorists? This vote will give them that chance.

But, you see, Brian doesn’t get it.  The tactic employed by Republicans was essentially the kind of political gaming that I mentioned above.  What is essentially a debate over the protection of American civil liberties, Republicans have instead turned it into whether or not Democrats are for or against terrorism.

This isn’t, however, a topic about combatting terrorism, nor is it even close to it.  If you wanted to have a real discussion about terrorism, it would be significantly more complex about whether the government should be allowed to eavesdrop without a warrant or not.  No, this is a debate about whether we should be giving up our right to privacy, which goes far beyond mere American idealism.

As Mac broke late last night, on top of the turmoil going on in the House, Senate Democrats are going belly up on protection of civil liberties.  The following proves to be something of a microsm of the greater problem:

Senators this week began reviewing classified documents related to the participation of the telephone carriers in the security agency program and came away from that early review convinced that the companies had “acted in good faith” in cooperating with what they believed was a legal and presidentially authorized program and that they should not be punished through civil litigation for their roles, the official said.

Remember the little government lesson that we had earlier?  That’s where this comes to play.  The entire telecommunications debate is about one thing, and one thing only; the Legislative and Executive branches attempting to remove the judicial branch completely from the entire process.  It is not for these governmental officials to decide whether or not telecommunications companies are guilty of breaking the law, that is a matter for the courts.

So to is the entire FISA debates.  The entire point of the courts is to ensure that the law is being followed, and that no one’s rights are being infringed upon.  But from the very beginning, Bush has been trying to eject them from the process.  The role of the courts, even the FISA courts, is to ensure that government officials are carrying out their duties without violating the constitutionally protected rights of the American citizenry.

And we do need protecting.  We have put in place such stringent protections in domestic crime fighting to prevent the wrongful persecution of American citizens.  Further, by granting too much authority, and by not steadfastly protecting our civil liberties, we grant the overseeing government too much power over those they govern.

The concept of our democracy is simply that those who govern do so in fear of those that are governed.  It is the people who are supposed to weild the power over those they elect to govern them, however, by relaxing controls that protect our civil liberties, we grant government officials undue power to exert control over us.  Eavesdropping without warrant means not having to prove that you have a substantial case against the target, and without having to have such proof, it is therefore possible for those citizens who do not actually pose a threat to the state.

Given that terrorists are essentially violent political enemies, this opens the door for non violent political enemies to also experience wrongful imprisonment.  This is the slippery slope, the path to nightmare regimes that are the stuff of conspiracy theories.

It is not my personal belief that we are going that far.  As much as I loathe and distrust the president, I don’t think he is trying to establish a dictatorial rule (at least not one that is significantly beyond the confines of what he has already done), but the entire point of these protections have always been to prevent such rule.

That is why we gnash our teeth about FISA, and the deregulation of the NSA.  It is not because we wish to protect terrorists, but because we are trying to protect ourselves.  Terrorism can be combatted within the confines of the law in ways that do not infringe upon our civil liberties, but protection from our own government cannot occur when our civil liberties are cast aside.

One Response to “It’s Not About Protecting Terrorists”

  1. mick says:

    As much as I loathe and distrust the president, I don’t think he is trying to establish a dictatorial rule….

    Of course he is, or as much as he can get away with. The definition of presidential power endorsed and fought for by the Nixon-Cheney wing of the GOP has always been virtually indistinguishable from the definition of dictatorial power. They were 20th century monarchists, and in the 21st they’ve all but succeeded in creating what they’ve always wanted. There are a few elements lacking but when the Donkeys pass this bill – and they will, it’s a done deal as far as the leadership is concerned – a major obstacle will have been eliminated and it won’t be easy to rebuild it.

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