Ted Kennedy On Retroactive Immunity For The Telecoms: "We Would Be Aiding And Abetting The President In His Illegal Actions, His Contempt For The Rule Of Law, And His Attempt To Hide His Lawbreaking From The American People"

[media id=3619] [media id=3620] (5;34 min) Ted Kennedy gave a great speech today in the Senate denouncing any form of immunity for the Telecoms that

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Ted Kennedy gave a great speech today in the Senate denouncing any form of immunity for the Telecoms that participated in the illegal practices of warrantless wiretapping that the Bush Administration called for. He also painted the picture that BushCo. is trying to avoid being prosecuted for this as well as set up their next chance to erase other past misdeeds that we know all too well.

Kennedy: Finally, amnesty would stamp a congressional seal of approval on the Administration’s warrantless spying. If Congress immunizes the telecoms for past violations of the law, it will send the message that Congress approves what the Administration did. We would be aiding and abetting the President in his illegal actions, his contempt for the rule of law, and his attempt to hide his lawbreaking from the American people. Voting for amnesty would be a vote for silence, secrecy, and illegality. There would be no accountability, no justice, no lessons learned...

It’s painfully clear what the President’s request for retroactive immunity is really about. It’s a self-serving attempt to avoid legal and political accountability and keep the American public in the dark about this whole shameful episode. Like the CIA’s destruction of videotapes showing potentially criminal conduct, it’s a desperate attempt to erase the past.

UPDATE: TYT and BraveNewFilms is covering the filibuster live.

(Full transcript of above video below the fold)

Some of the telecoms might have been doing what they thought was good for the country. Some of them might simply have been doing what they thought would preserve their lucrative government contracts. We simply don’t know. But either way, it is not the role of telecommunications companies to decide which laws to follow and which to ignore. FISA is a law that was carefully developed over many years to give the Executive Branch the flexibility it needs, while protecting the rights of Americans. It is the companies’ legal duty—and their patriotic duty—to follow that law.

Nothing could be more dangerous for Americans’ privacy and liberty than to weaken that law, which is precisely what retroactive immunity is meant to do. Yesterday’s newspaper disclosed that in December of 2000, the National Security Agency sent the Bush Administration a report asserting that the Agency must become a “powerful, permanent presence” on America’s communications network. A “powerful, permanent presence” on America’s communications network. Under this Administration, that is exactly what the NSA has become. If the phone companies simply do the NSA’s bidding in violation of the law, they create a world in which Americans can never feel confident that their e-mails and phone calls aren’t being tapped by the government.

Finally, amnesty would stamp a congressional seal of approval on the Administration’s warrantless spying. If Congress immunizes the telecoms for past violations of the law, it will send the message that Congress approves what the Administration did. We would be aiding and abetting the President in his illegal actions, his contempt for the rule of law, and his attempt to hide his lawbreaking from the American people. Voting for amnesty would be a vote for silence, secrecy, and illegality. There would be no accountability, no justice, no lessons learned.

The damage won’t stop there. The telecommunications companies are not the only private entity enlisted by this Administration in its lawbreaking. Think about Blackwater and its brutal actions in Iraq, or the airlines that have flown CIA captives to be tortured in foreign countries. These companies may also be summoned to court one day to justify their actions. And when that day comes, the Administration may call yet again for retroactive immunity, claiming that the companies were only doing their patriotic duty as “partners” in fighting terrorism.

The debate we’re having now about telecom amnesty is not likely to be the last round in the Administration’s attempt to immunize its private partners. It’s only an opening round. In America, we should be striving to make more entities subject to the rule of law, not fewer. Giving in to the Administration now will start us down a path to a very dark place.

Think about what we’ve been hearing from the White House in this debate. The President has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA. But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retroactive immunity. No immunity, no new FISA bill. So if we take the President at his word, he is willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies. The President’s insistence on immunity as a precondition for any FISA reform is yet another example of his disrespect for honest dialogue and for the rule of law.

It’s painfully clear what the President’s request for retroactive immunity is really about. It’s a self-serving attempt to avoid legal and political accountability and keep the American public in the dark about this whole shameful episode. Like the CIA’s destruction of videotapes showing potentially criminal conduct, it’s a desperate attempt to erase the past.

The Senate should see this request for what it is, and reject it. We should pass this amendment to strike Title II from the FISA bill. Our focus should be on protecting national security, our fundamental liberties, and the rule of law—not protecting phone companies that knew they were breaking the law.


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