On Friday, June 20, the House of Representatives voted 239-129 in favor of HR 6304, more commonly known as the “telecom immunity bill.” The passage in the House is a victory for President Bush and right wingers everywhere. It is an especially large victory (and collected sigh of relief) for the big-wig telecommunications companies who violated all kinds of laws, not to mention civil liberties, by aiding and abetting the Bush Administration with its illegal, post-9/11 surveillance program. This program ran–hidden from the American public–for six years. It was the New York Times, the supposed liberal rag newspaper, that finally broke the news via solid investigative reporting.
The passage through the House, though detrimental to the basic rights of American citizens, is not yet a thorough and complete victory for Bush and McCarthyists everywhere. It still has to pass a Senate vote upcoming on Monday, June 23. Though not many are holding their breaths for a resounding rejection of the bill (too many domestic funding programs are attached to it), at least there is one man, one Senator who has openly, publicly stated that he will fight to remove the immunity clause before passing the bill.
The man? Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama. Earlier Saturday, according the CBS/AP, Obama offered full support for “the House’s update of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but said he would try to strip a provision granting immunity to telecommunication companies when the bill comes to a vote in the Senate next week.”
The Bush Administration eavesdropped on American citizens (ok, their phone and internet lines) for six years without permission from the FISA court and as a result, “some 40 lawsuits have been filed against the telecommunications companies by groups and individuals who say the Bush administration illegally monitored their phone calls or e-mails.”
Passage of the bill as it is would result in blanket immunity for the telecom companies and wipe out the 40 some odd lawsuits currently in play. Essentially, passage of this bill as it is currently packaged will equate to a big middle finger to the inalienable rights of Americans, and a “get out of jail free” forever card for those companies who were knowingly complicit in illegal wiretapping.
Obama said, “given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program…[this bill] does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.”
If this bill is passed, all past offenses, big and small, all high crimes and misdemeanors of both the telecom companies and the Bush Administration, will be covered up. They will not come to light, and Bush and the rest of his friends will once again gather around the table at the Oval Office and snicker at the fools of the American citizenry while toasting yet another round to themselves and their ability to stick it to everyone.
It is crucial that the provision gets stripped as Obama claims. The public deserves the truth, deserves transparency into the executive branch, especially this one, which has conducted itself under more cloak and dagger from day one than even Richard Nixon’s group of boys.
Obama ended his statement by proclaiming that there is “little doubt” the Bush Administration and the telecom companies “has abused [its] authority and undermined the Constitution.”
Here’s hoping the Senate has more luck and more spine than the House. For all our sakes.