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One Senator Says 'Enough'

Here is more blogger reaction.

Madison Powers warns about the surveillance bill in an opinion column for Congressional Quarterly: "The near-universal refrain is that protection against terrorism depends on its passage. The obvious truth, however, is that while the bill has been bottled up for an extended presidential primary season, the sense of urgency now is based more on the political needs of individual members of Congress than on national security needs.

"Democrats want to remove the issue from the fall campaign, and Republicans rarely miss an opportunity to hyperventilate over scary things, for which fewer civil liberties seems to be the prescription. Democrats, including ones who should know better, capitulated in fear of being blamed for not doing enough to stop a terrorist attack because of an overly developed concern for civil libertarian niceties."

But Powers writes that "the political calculus that it won't matter that much in the end underestimates the extent of its flaws. . . .

"What matters most fundamentally is the protection of individual American citizens who might be spied upon illegally and then left without legal remedy. . . .

"Nothing in the legislation mitigates the threat of promiscuous spying on the public. Nor does it supply a legal remedy for those inappropriately spied upon."

The USA Today editorial board writes that the new bill is flawed: "In many ways, the compromise is no better than the temporary, overly broad law it would replace. The question has never been whether terrorists are a threat to this nation (they are) or whether U.S. intelligence officials should be able to spy aggressively on them (they should). It's how to achieve those ends without trading away the privacy of Americans.

"The Bush administration has repeatedly demanded far more authority than it reasonably needs and insinuated that anyone who opposes its view is soft on terrorism. That's a dismayingly effective argument in an election year when candidates are trying to inoculate themselves against blame for another terror attack. . . .

"[C]ompanies are being given immunity for actions they knew or should have known were illegal, and which have never been fully disclosed. When a president seeks to act illegally, businesses should have a potent incentive to comply with the law and demand a court order. This legislation would do the opposite, weakening the best protection the public has against the monitoring of its communications."

Republican Senator Kit Bond, meanwhile, defends the bill in a USA Today op-ed. Among his arguments: "The agreement also gives vital civil liability protection to companies that answered the call of duty after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Without such protection, it is likely our private partners will refuse to cooperate with future requests for assistance. This is a risk our nation cannot accept."

But as I wrote in my March 3 column, Why Immunity Matters, that is the most specious of all the arguments for immunity. Are the telecoms threatening to not follow lawful orders in the future? That sounds like extortion. Are they saying that without immunity, they'll insist on greater assurance that what they're asked to do is legal? That sounds fine to me. Or are they balking about doing things that we don't even know about?

Torture Watch

Scott Shane writes in the New York Times: "A bipartisan group of 200 former government officials, retired generals and religious leaders plans to issue a statement on Wednesday calling for a presidential order to outlaw some interrogation and detention practices used by the Bush administration over the last six years.


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