Friday, June 09, 2006

Cowardice and compromise: Arlen Specter's fatuous flip-flop on NSA eavesdropping

No, the Republican-led Senate won't provide the checks necessary to balance President Bush's concentration of power in the executive branch with respect to the war on terror. Not that this should come as much of a surprise. Here's Pincus at the Post:

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed legislation that would give President Bush the option of seeking a warrant from a special court for an electronic surveillance program such as the one being conducted by the National Security Agency.

Sen. Arlen Specter's approach modifies his earlier position that the NSA eavesdropping program, which targets international telephone calls and e-mails in which one party is suspected of links to terrorists, must be subject to supervision by the secret court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The new proposal specifies that it cannot "be construed to limit the constitutional authority of the President to gather foreign intelligence information or monitor the activities and communications of any person reasonably believed to be associated with a foreign enemy of the United States."

But what if the president defines his own "constitutional authority"? What if he defends eavesdropping in circumvention of FISA as part of his constitutional mandate "to gather foreign intelligence information," not to mention domestic intelligence information? If even the rubber stampers of the FISA court are too much of an imposition on the president, what assurances will we have that eavesdropping on Americans is being conducted properly?

In addition, according to the Post, "[a]nother part of the Specter bill would grant blanket amnesty to anyone who authorized warrantless surveillance under presidential authority, a provision that seems to ensure that no one would be held criminally liable if the current program is found illegal under present law". As Glenn Greenwald rightly puts it, in yet another must-read post on this topic, this amounts to "the President's allies in Congress [enacting] legislation which expressly shields government officials, including the President, from criminal liability for past lawbreaking". This is essentially a pre-conviction (and even pre-trial) pardon -- "amnesty," to be precise. And it is, I agree, "reprehensible".

Reprehensible, yet typical. Specter may not be the most popular Republican among Republicans, and he may occasionally show signs of independent thought and a conscience, but, lest we forget, he's still a Republican. Nothing will change as long as they continue to run Congress.

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Some reaction from around the blogosphere:

Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report and Political Animal: "It's hard to call this a 'compromise.' It's more accurate to call it a 'bad joke.'" More: "Specter believes the administration's surveillance efforts violated the law, but under his new approach, there's no punishment and no accountability. Silly me, I thought Republicans were against amnesty." Obviously not. Not for Bush, not for their own kind.

Kevin Hayden at The American Street: "Arlen Specter, supported by a still-complicit mainstream media, defends criminal lawbreaking while posing as an independent voice willing to challenge the powerful crooks. It makes me wonder if Specter, in his previous life as a prosecutor, ever jailed anyone."

Shakespeare's Sister: "If there was ever a time for the Dems to put their collective foot down and raise hell, this is it. It’s partisanship in the extreme, so vastly outside the realm of propriety in its blatant acknowledgement that this president is above the law, that it is sincerely un-American." I'm with you, Shakes.

TalkLeft: "Make up your mind, Senator Specter. Are you for the Constitution or against it? Do you believe in holding the administration accountable or not?" The honest answers: Against it and absolutely not. But you won't get the honest ones from Specter.

Tim F., the liberal voice at Balloon Juice: "Retroactive amnesty seems like a strange gift for an administration that has successfully stonewalled every attempt to investigate it."

The Heretik: "Only in Washington can a complete rollover and giveaway be called compromise." It's the cesspool on the Potomac, remember?

See also Hullabaloo, NewsHog, Think Progress, and, for some video, Crooks and Liars.

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