Sunday, July 06, 2008

Outrageous: FISA bill and telecom amnesty

Outraged by yet another apologist's op-ed spouting the standard talking points and lies, the incomparable Glenn Greenwald makes it clear exactly how the FISA legislation is a complete travesty.
I would really like to know where people like Soderberg get the idea that the U.S. President has the power to "order" private citizens to do anything, let alone to break the law, as even she admits happened here. I'm asking this literally: how did this warped and distinctly un-American mentality get implanted into our public discourse -- that the President can give "orders" to private citizens that must be complied with? Soderberg views the President as a monarch -- someone who can issue "orders" that must be obeyed, even when, as she acknowledges, the "orders" are illegal. That just isn't how our country works and it never was. We don't have a King who can order people to break the law.


So much of this comes from the constant fetishizing of the President as the Supreme Leader, "our" Commander-in-Chief, rather than -- as the Constitution explicitly states -- "commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States." In the U.S., private actors don't have government "commanders" who can "order" or "direct" them to do anything. Even soldiers, for whom the President is actually the Commander-in-Chief, are prohibited from obeying unlawful orders. Yet here is Nancy Soderberg -- in tandem with the rest of the political establishment -- claiming that private telecoms were justified, even compelled, to obey unlawful "orders" from the President, and are therefore entitled to be immunized from consequences.


Contrary to what the Nancy Soderbergs of the world want people to believe, these [FISA] laws enacted by the American people in order to prevent spying abuses weren't only directed at the Government but specifically at the telecom industry as well. The whole point was to compel telecoms by force of law to refuse illegal Government "orders" to allow spying on their customers. That's why Qwest and others refused to "comply", but the telecoms that were hungry for extremely lucrative government contracts agreed to break the law. They did it because, motivated by profit, they chose to, not because they were compelled. Breaking the law on purpose and then profiting from the lawbreaking is classic criminal behavior. The conduct which those laws were designed to make illegal -- and which they unambiguously outlawed -- is exactly what the telecoms did here.


What all of this is really about -- the reason why political elites like Nancy Soderberg are so eager to defend it -- is because they really do believe that lawbreaking isn't wrong, that it doesn't deserve punishment, when engaged in by them rather than by commoners. People who defend telecom immunity or who say that it's not a big deal are, by logical necessity, adopting this view: "Our highest political officials and largest corporations shouldn't face consequences when they break our laws as long as they claim it was for our own good." That's the destructive premise that lies at the heart of this deeply corrupt measure, the reason it matters so much. Just like the pardon of Nixon, the protection of Iran-contra criminals, and the commutation of Lewis Libby's sentence, this bill is yet another step in cementing a two-tiered system of justice in America where our highest political officials and connected elite can break our laws with impunity.


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