Sunday, June 22, 2008


There’s a scene in the 1985 movie, Back to the Future, when Michael J. Fox, stranded in 1955, holds up a picture of his family, and members start to fade away, one by one, as events make it more unlikely that his parents will marry. That’s the same feeling I get as the freedoms articulated in the United States Constitution are eroded, one by one. The Fourth Amendment was enacted as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791 to protect us from government invasions of our privacy and from arbitrary arrests and imprisonment. It is the epitome of what freedom means in our country- the right to be left alone.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The warrantless wiretapping of American citizens at the behest of President Bush from 2001 through 2006 was a violation of this Constitutional protection. It was also a violation of statutory law, the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which required the President to show probable cause and to seek judicial warrants before wiretapping conversations and intercepting e-mails. And it was a violation of President Bush’s oath of office, when he swore, pursuant to Article II, Section I of the Constitution:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

On June 19th the House of Representatives voted to give immunity to the telecommunications companies which broke the law by spying on American citizens without warrants. This bill will result in the immediate dismissal of several lawsuits by innocent Americans whose privacy rights were violated by their government and these companies. The Senate will shortly follow suit, and the best chance Americans will have to see how their freedom was casually trashed by the Bush Administration will be lost. The politicians who are stealing your heritage have no shortage of outright lies to justify their actions. They claim that they need this legislation to get telecom companies to cooperate with the government in the future. The truth is that those companies have always been required to cooperate with a lawful order- a judicial warrant authorizing a wiretap. They claim that the companies should not be penalized for following the president’s orders- as Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, put it:

“When the government tells you to do something, I’m sure you would all agree that I think you all recognize that is something you need to do.”

Senator Bond, not recognizing irony when he utters it, has repeated the rationale used by high Nazi officials on trial for war crimes in Nuremburg following World War II: “I was just following orders.” It didn’t work for them, and it shouldn’t work in 2008. One telecom, Qwest Communications of Denver, defied the President because they, unlike President Bush, realized that we are a country of laws and not of unbridled executive authority.

They claim that we need these tools to fight terrorism, and had these surveillance powers been in effect in 2001, we could have avoided being attacked. The truth is that the illegal surveillance preceded the 9-11 attacks- the President of Qwest testified that his company was requested to violate the law as early as February of 2001. The truth is that the FISA law already gave the government all of the tools it needed to protect Americans against foreign attacks- FISA allowed the government a safe harbor of requesting a warrant 72 hours after the surveillance began if a United States citizen was involved. And out of the thousands of warrants the government requested in the 30 years since the law was enacted, only a handful were ever denied.

So as Americans celebrate July 4th and American independence this year, and for years to come, they should remember two quotes, the first from one of the authors of the Declaration, the 2nd President of these United States, John Adams, in a 1777 letter to his wife Abigail:

“Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”

The second, attributed to Nobel Prize winning author Sinclair Lewis:

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”


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