Vote On Immunity Appears Imminent, But Anything Could Happen
There have been rumors that the Senate's vote on final passage of the FISA Amendments Act might be delayed until after next week's Congressional recess. Anything could happen, as the Senate is simultaneously rushing to complete two other controversial bills — one to address the mortage crisis, and another to fund the Iraq war — as quickly as possible. At this moment, though, it still appears very likely that the Senate will vote on the bill sometime on Thursday. Many expect that the bill will pass if voted on this week, despite newspaper editorials from across the country condemning the so-called "compromise" bill.
A "compromise" usually involves parties in conflict each giving something up to seek a middle ground. So it was strange to see the term bandied about on Friday, when the House of Representatives -- after holding strong for months against White House demands -- passed a surveillance reform bill that will grant legal amnesty to telecoms that participated in the National Security Agency's program of warrantless wiretapping, and give George Bush carte blanche to continue listening to our international calls with only the most anemic court oversight.
Patrick Radden Keefe, writing in Slate, rounds up and shoots down five of the most pernicious myths about the bill, elaborating on its specifics:
Perhaps most controversially, the bill effectively pardons the telecom giants that assisted the Bush administration in the warrantless wiretapping program. They will now be shielded from dozens of civil lawsuits brought against them after their involvement was exposed. House Democrats insist that the telecoms are not automatically getting off the hook. Instead, the companies must go before a federal judge. But here's the catch: For the suits against them to be "promptly dismissed," they must demonstrate to the judge not that what they did was legal but only that the White House told them to do it.
This is another bit of face-saving window dressing, and its essence is best captured in a breathtaking remark from Sen. Bond: "I'm not here to say that the government is always right. But when the government tells you to do something, I'm sure you would all agree … that is something you need to do." That more or less sums it up—one part Nuremberg defense, the other part Nixon.
This could end tomorrow. If you haven't already, make sure your Senators know where you stand.