If I commit a crime against and possibly damage who knows how many American citizens I sure hope Congress comes to my rescue and gives me retroactive immunity:
The Senate voted Tuesday to shield from lawsuits telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on their customers without court permission after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
After nearly two months of stops and starts, the Senate rejected by a vote of 31 to 67 a move to strip away a grant of retroactive legal immunity for the companies.
President Bush has promised to veto any new surveillance bill that does not protect the companies that helped the government in its warrantless wiretapping program, arguing that it is essential if the private sector is to give the government the help it needs.
About 40 lawsuits have been filed against telecom companies by people alleging violations of wiretapping and privacy laws.
The Senate also rejected two amendments that sought to water down the immunity provision. (AP via New York Times)
Bush demands this immunity but this isn’t strictly a Republican – Democrat thing. Plenty of Republican conservatives are dismayed about this while too many Democrats seem determined to protect their telecom campaign contribution income. A bipartisan amendment co-sponsored by Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island that would have shifted the onus from the telecoms to the government failed. So did one sponsored by the truly vile Democratic Senator from California, Diane Feinstein. She wanted to give the secret court overseeing surveillance inside the US the power to dump lawsuits, not make it automatic. Arguably better than blanket immunity, but only arguably. And I won’t argue for it. West Virginia Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller has also played a despicable part in trampling on our constitution rights. I hope they both face nasty primary challenges but I doubt it will happen.
As the lopsided vote (31 to 67) shows, plenty of Democrats voted for this monstrosity. At some point I hope they have to answer for it. Republicans, of course, form the backbone of the Get Out of Jail Free legislation — as usual. This hideous legislation expires on February 15 unless reauthorized by Congress and that is exactly what it looks like Congress will do. The House version doesn’t have the immunity provision of the Senate version, but no one is very confident the two versions will be reconciled by eliminating the immunity provisions for AT&T and their ilk.
The Democratic Congress doesn’t have a free hand because of its slim majority in the Senate but this wasn’t based on a slim majority. This was a shameful cave-in by too many Democrats.
Disappointment is too mild a word.