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Constitutional expert: FISA bill 'is an evisceration of the Fourth Amendment'
Nick Langewis and David Edwards
Published: Thursday June 19, 2008

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"Never appease political bullies, President Bush admonished at the Israeli Knesset," MSNBC's Keith Olbermann opened. "Oddly, House Democrats chose to ignore him on the subject of dealing with him."

Constitutional expert Jonathan Turley sees a "very frightening bill" in a proposed "compromise," currently in the House, that would update the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to effectively grant immunity from civil lawsuits to telecommunications companies that agreed to spy on their customers as part of the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program, starting shortly before the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. If the White House asked a phone company to spy with its assurance that it was legal, the measure says, that's enough to dismiss a case.

Congressional Democrats, Turley went on, knew about surveillance and torture programs, but were politically unable to oppose them at the same time they were touting themselves to the public as defenders of civil liberties. The bill, he said, is part of a campaign of collusion between Congress and the Bush administration, immunizing not only the telecommunications companies, but the administration and any members of Congress, on either side of the aisle, that may have been involved.

"The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation," Senator Russ Feingold said today. "The House and Senate should not be taking up this bill, which effectively guarantees immunity for telecom companies alleged to have participated in the Presidentís illegal program, and which fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home. Allowing courts to review the question of immunity is meaningless when the same legislation essentially requires the court to grant immunity. And under this bill, the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power. Instead of cutting bad deals on both FISA and funding for the war in Iraq, Democrats should be standing up to the flawed and dangerous policies of this administration."

"The Democrats never really were engaged in this," said Turley. "In fact, they repeatedly tried to cave in to the White House, only to be stopped by civil libertarians and bloggers."

"I think they're simply waiting to see if the public's interest will wane," he went on, referring to repeated attempts to float said legislation past the public. "This bill has quite literally no public value for citizens or civil liberties. It is reverse engineering, though the type of thing the Bush Administration's famous for, and now the Democrats are doing--that is, to change the law to conform to past conduct."

"It's what any criminal would love to do," Turley continued. "You rob a bank, go to the legislature, and change the law to say that robbing banks is lawful."

"People need to be very, very much aware of this bill," he charged. "What you're seeing in this bill is an evisceration of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. It is something that allows the President and the government to go into law-abiding homes, on their word alone--their suspicion alone--and to engage in warrantless surveillance.

"That's what the framers who drafted the Fourth Amendment wanted to prevent."

The House could vote on the bill as soon as Friday. A full copy of the bill, in PDF format, is available at this link.

This video is from MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, broadcast June 19, 2008.


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