September 4, 2006
Well, I was going to write about Arlen Specter's "Imperial Apologia" bill -- which "legalizes" Bush's patently illegal warrantless surveillance program and whitewashes five years of clearly criminal behavior -- because it's coming before Congress this week, and I've written extensively about it before. (Craven Image: The Senate Bows to Imperial Power; July 20; Fever Dream: Fast Forward to the End of Democracy; Jan. 27). But I find that, as usual, Glenn Greenwald has already got it covered and said just about everything I wanted to say about it. (Greenwald is a both curse and blessing for dissident writers; a curse, because he is so often "the firstest with the mostest" on many of the vital matters of our time; and a blessing, of course, because he does so much of the heavy lifting for you.)
So go read his whole piece, after you've sampled some excerpts below. This bill is a watershed moment in the history of our Republic; although the spirit of liberty has long rotted away inside the gilded carapace of power, this bill will remove some of the remaining outward flourishes that, in better times, might yet be re-animated. But if the president's power to break laws at whim is officially acknowledged as part of the institutional framework of our government -- as it will be if Specter's craven measure passes -- there will be precious little left to build on. Even the ruins and rubble of our Constitutional Republic are being pounded into sand by Bush and his willing executioners of freedom. They want to leave us nothing that is not in their own iron, bloodstained hands. Dark days indeed.
This week's FISA debate -- 2 falsehoods that cannot be responsibly reported. (Unclaimed Territory)
Excerpt:...Then there is this article from Mark Knoller of CBS News (h/t The Octillion), "reporting" on the administration's reaction to Judge Taylor's ruling that the warrantless eavesdropping program is illegal:
"I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live. I strongly disagree with this decision," [President Bush] told reporters at the presidential retreat in Camp David. "We strongly believe it's constitutional and if al Qaeda is calling into the United States we want to know why they're calling," he said.It is journalistically inexcusable for the media to pass along this "argument" without immediately pointing out that it is false -- not unpersuasive, not just misleading, but completely false.If I had one wish, it would be for journalists everywhere to ingest this one extremely simple, undeniable fact -- FISA, as written, allows the President to "listen in when Osama bin Laden is calling." Under the law as it has existed for 28 years, "if al Qaeda is calling into the United States [the President can] know why they're calling." The "Terrorist Surveillance Program" doesn't give the President the power to listen in on those calls because he already has that power under FISA.The difference between FISA and the warrantless eavesdropping program is not about whether the President can eavesdrop on terrorists. He can eavesdrop on all of the terrorists he wants under FISA as it is written. What is being debated -- the only difference -- is whether he should be able to eavesdrop on the conversations of Americans with judicial oversight (as all Presidents have done for the last 30 years) or whether he can eavesdrop on Americans in secret, without oversight (which led to severe abuses of the eavesdropping powers in the four decades prior to FISA). That is what is being decided, not whether he can eavesdrop on terrorists.Leaving FISA as is -- or eliminating The Terrorist Surveillance Program today -- would mean that the President can still freely eavesdrop on Al Qaeda's conversations. If we eliminated The Terrorist Surveillance Program this minute, the President could still listen in when Osama bin Laden calls. That's because FISA, as is, vests aggressive power in the President to eavesdrop on America's enemies. Why is that so hard for journalists to comprehend?Those who oppose the Specter bill favor aggressive eavesdropping on terrorists. What they oppose is allowing the President to eavesdrop on Americans in secret, with no judicial oversight.When Bush and his supporters argue, as they will relentlessly in the coming weeks, that Democrats oppose eavesdropping on Al Qaeda, that is not political advocacy. That is not "spin." It is not a legitimate argument or a factually questionable proposition that ought to be passed along without comment. It is none of those things. What that is instead is a factually false claim -- a lie, if one insists. Nobody opposes eavesdropping on Al Qaeda. The President has the full power right now under FISA to eavesdrop as much as he wants on terrorists. To say otherwise -- to say that Democrats want to stop eavesdropping on terrorists -- is just untrue. Period.If journalists have any responsibility at all beyond being stenographers, it is to make clear the falsity of claims like that. When political officials make false statements as part of their attempt to persuade the public, the role of journalists is to expose the falsity, point out that it is false, not pass it along and treat it like a questionable though legitimate political argument. Journalistic neutrality does not justify -- nor does it permit -- journalists to repeat the factually false statements of government officials without clearly stating that they are false. (End excerpt)
This is a theme I have harped on until I am blue in the face. The idea that the president does not already have draconian powers of surveillance over anyone even remotely suspected of terrorist activity or inclinations is one of the many great and poisonous lies of our times. Yet as Glenn makes clear in this post, it is dram of evil that has been swallowed with gusto by the national media.
P.S. I see, somewhat belatedly, that The Onion has also handled this theme with its usual vigor: Bush Grants Self Permission to Grant More Power to Self (Aug.1).