When the Senate voted this week to pass retroactive immunity to telecoms that participated in the President's illegal spying program, newspaper editorial boards from New York to Memphis to San Francisco repeated a cry of outrage that has been building for months. And when the House subsequently refused to pass the Senate's version without significant debate, the same boards cheered their representatives' apparent willingness to call the President's bluff. Here's a sampling of editorial opinion from around the country:
But Mr. Bush's pass-it-now-or-the-terrorists-will-win rhetoric is overheated fearmongering. He should agree to a second extension, which would allow intelligence agencies to operate under the existing law. The fact is that even if the law is permitted to expire Saturday, as scheduled, the orders under which surveillance is being conducted would remain in place. Any new orders could be issued by the FISA court, and without the backlog that had slowed the court's operations before the Protect America Act was passed last August. Allowing legislators a few more weeks to try to resolve differences presents no evident threat to U.S. security. A few more weeks could even produce a better bill.
Three cheers for the House of Representatives — and for the Democratic leadership.
The House took two major steps today that started to dispel the fog of fear and inertia that has surrounded the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill when it comes to challenging President Bush and their Republican colleagues.
First, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, did exactly the right thing when she decided to let the House go on a weeklong break without voting on an awful bill sent over from the Senate that would expand the president’s ability to spy on Americans without bothering to get a warrant. It would also help the White House cover up President Bush’s unlawful spying program after 9/11 by giving blanket immunity to any company that turned over data on Americans’ telephone calls and emails without a court order.
History shows that when judicial oversight is reduced, government agencies' snooping inevitably extends beyond national security threats to political opponents, journalists, protesters and other domestic annoyances. When an administration tries to end run the law, telecommunication companies should be a crucial last line of resistance to protect your privacy.
Bush is pressing the House to accept the Senate bill and refusing to temporarily extend the current law, which expires on Saturday. That's irresponsible. The House and Senate need time to negotiate their differences because the House has no telecom immunity provision. Bush's implication that expiration of the law would expose the nation to terrorist danger is worse than disingenuous: The eavesdropping authorizations under the law continue for a year. Crucial decisions about civil liberties in an age of terror shouldn't be driven by fear-mongering.
Whatever the actual threat, Bush is trying to stampede Congress - particularly, Democrats. He's pressuring them to approve a misguided anti-terrorism law out of the fear that they'll be seen by American voters as weak on national security. It's an old strategy, and one that meek Democrats continue to swallow.
No one questions the need for antiterror agents to spy on the nation's enemies. But it should be done with privacy safeguards and accountability. That's why the House shouldn't cave to fear.
San Francisco Chronicle
To its credit, the House has taken a firm stand. It favors updating surveillance laws to reflect changes in technology and spy-catching, but it won't budge on exempting telecoms from explaining their wholesale violations of privacy laws in court. This impasse calls out for further negotiating, but President Bush blusters that he won't allow it.
The dispute plays to one of the president's remaining political strengths: His resolve and image as a terrorist fighter. But on the issue of telecom eavesdropping, he's gone too far. He brushes off protests by suggesting that his critics are weaklings on security whose actions boost chances of a terrorist attack.
His pressure tactics have brought on a showdown with the House and Pelosi, who shouldn't permit the president to bend established law in the name of national security.
Keith Olbermann on MSNBC
Mr. Bush, you say that our ability to track terrorist threats will be
weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger.
Yet you have weakened that ability!
You have subjected us, your citizens, to that greater danger!
This, Mr. Bush, is simple enough even for you to understand.
For the moment, at least, thanks to some true patriots in the House,
and your own stubbornness, you have tabled telecom immunity, and the
Albany Times-Union, NY
President Bush has little more than 10 months left before he leaves office, and his job approval ratings continue to decline. He is, therefore, not just a lame duck, but a bleeding one. Yet for all of that, he still managed to cower the Senate into trampling on basic freedoms. On Tuesday, in a deplorable display of cowardice, the Senate voted 68 to 29 to give Mr. Bush expanded powers to monitor Americans' international phone calls and e-mails, and to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that turned over customer data to government agents without a court warrant.
Daytona Beach News-Journal, FL
Senate grants Bush extraordinary, unchecked powers
They say domestic spying is legal. They say it only tracks suspected terrorists. They say it only tracks communications with at least one party abroad. They say they won't abuse it. They being President Bush, his last two attorneys general, and that corps of Justice Department lawyers who think secret, internal memos are all they need to lift the executive above the law. But how to trust them when just about everything they say about domestic spying has already been proven wrong or a flat-out lie?
Florida Today, Brevard County FL
Our view: Big Brother's listening
Senate vote to expand illegal spying threatens America's most cherished civil liberties
You've got to hand it to President Bush and Congress. After spending the past six years illegally spying on Americans -- and trampling the Constitution like a cheap doormat -- they're not stopping now.
It's all falling into place now.
Last week, we learned from Attorney General Michael Mukasey that the U.S. Department of Justice will not be investigating whether the Bush administration's authorization of the use of torture techniques such as waterboarding against terrorism suspects is a crime. Mukasey also said that the Justice Department will also not be investigating whether the Bush administration violated the law by authorizing warrantless wiretapping on Americans. Why? Because the Justice Department signed off on both programs and said they were legal.
Commercial Appeal, Memphis TN
Foreclosure on freedom
Courageous souls are hard to find in an election year when the issue is national security. But congressional negotiators should resist the pressure to compromise American values to launch a dubious strike against terrorism.
Northwest Herald, McHenry County, IL
The Senate approved a new version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act this week that would provide immunity to telecommunication companies who are accused in civil lawsuits of violating privacy and wiretapping laws.
We would urge the House to reject this bill. Immunity should not be provided to the telecommunication companies. President Bush has attempted to suggest that without quick action by Congress, our surveillance capacity will be compromised and the nation threatened. But FISA remains the law of the land and still provides a legal framework for surveillance.
There are more than 40 lawsuits accusing private companies of taking part in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. Bush has said that he would veto any bill that did not include the immunity provision. This would be a mistake. Granting immunity to private companies who might have violated the privacy of Americans has nothing to do with the FISA bill and the ongoing war on terrorism.
UNLV The Rebel Yell, NV
Senate passes FISA, lets Americans down
The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, MA
El Diario (New York), NY
Prepare to open your phone records, bank transactions and email ...