I have not been following this closely so I was surprised, if not shocked, by the Senate passing the bill which authorizes warrantless wiretaps of people suspected of having terrorist connections and citizens oversees. I was even more surprised that the amendment granting immunity to telecommunications companies who permitted illegal warrantless wiretaps in the past. The motion to strike the retroactive immunity provision was defeated by the unanimous vote of the Republicans (49) and 17 Democrats. Then the entire bill passes with only a few more than half the Democrats objecting.
I haven’t yet looked at the bill but the reporting is odd. The bill is said to bolster the privacy rights of all-abiding citizens while authorizing the government to listen in on conversations of suspects without any warrants whatsoever. It of course is the determination of how you determine who is a suspect and who is not that is the focus of the attention. I have found no explanation of this point. How are non-suspects’ rights bolstered? Besides doing away with the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, on the face of the bill as reported there are a number of constitutional issues that scream out.
This country has a history of abridging liberty and constitutional rights during periods of war. Most famously perhaps was Lincoln’s abandonment of habius corpus for the war-related purpose of diminishing opposition to his war. Justice Douglas, a civil rights advocate, approved internment during World War II.
The problem now is that we are engaged in a military activity we call a war, which Cheney and McCain speculate could last one hundred years. The purpose of the war is to end terrorism, something that has never happened in the earth’s long history. Terrorism is so broadly defined that it includes preemptive strikes, foreign C.I.A. intervention and a host of other activities in which we engage. It confers a carte blanch to attack anyone we choose, as well as legitimizing attacks on us. Realistically speaking there appears to be no end to this war, so I fear there would be no end to the suspension of constitutional rights as we have observed them so far.
Neither Democratic candidate voted on this Senate Bill.