After two broken promises to give a speech on the subject, Barack Obama finally came out with a written statement justifying his support for George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. Obama declined to answer any further questions on the subjects, and sent out his aides instead.
The following are the core points that Barack Obama made in his written statement, and a rebuttal to each.
Barack Obama wrote, “I also believe that the compromise bill is far better than the Protect America Act that I voted against last year.”
Scrambled eggs with arsenic, mercury and broken glass is better than scrambled eggs with arsenic, mercury, broken glass, anthrax spores and plutonium on the side. That doesn’t mean that you should eat the scrambled eggs with arsenic, mercury and broken glass. Saying that one thing is better than another ought not to convince anyone that the better thing is any good at all.
Barack Obama knows this. He isn’t stupid. This argument is an attempt to distract people from the grave problems of the FISA Amendments Act. It is not an honest argument.
Barack Obama admits that the FISA Amendments Act is a bad law. So why is he voting for it? In his entire statement, Obama fails to come up with one specific reason that the FISA Amendments Act needs to be passed. Obama only says vaguely that Americans are in danger. Look around you now. Are you in danger?
What would happen if the FISA Amendments Act were not passed? The only thing that would happen is that the legal situation would revert to what it was one year ago, in early July 2007. Were you in special danger then? No, but George W. Bush was in grave legal danger, because lawsuits were about to bring the truth about his illegal programs to spy against the American people into the open.
Why is Barack Obama so eager to help George W. Bush cover up his crimes?
Barack Obama wrote, “The exclusivity provision makes it clear to any President or telecommunications company that no law supersedes the authority of the FISA court.”
That is plainly false. The FISA Amendments Act is itself a law that supersedes the authority of the FISA court. It strips power from the FISA court, making them impotent to stop spy programs initiated by the Attorney General.
Furthermore, the exclusivity provision is negated by other provisions in the bill that allow the Attorney General to ignore the FISA court, whenever the Attorney General declares it to be necessary, without any requirement of actual proof that it is necessary.
Barack Obama wrote, “An independent monitor must watch the watchers to prevent abuses and to protect the civil liberties of the American people. This compromise law assures that the FISA court has that responsibility.”
Once again, Barack Obama has made a blatantly false statement. The FISA Amendments Act fails to establish an independent monitor. The FISA Amendments Act establishes the Attorney General as the head of spying operations against the American people. The FISA Amendments Act then establishes the Attorney General as the sole person in the federal government who has the power to declare whether the Attorney General’s own spying programs have been in violation of the law. The FISA court has NO power to contradict the Attorney General’s proclamations.
Besides, courts are not supposed to be mere monitors. They are not supposed to just be watching when crimes take place.
Imagine that a law was passed that declared that courts could only monitor assassinations of citizens conducted by the federal government. That court could observe that the assassinations were taking place, but then could do nothing to stop the assassinations. That’s just the sort of thing that the FISA Amendments Act does to the FISA court – only it’s spying on Americans that’s the abuse, instead of assassination.
Courts are supposed to have the power to make rulings that then have the force of law, compelling members of the Executive Branch to obey. The FISA Amendments Act enables the FISA court only to watch, and not to make rulings that can compel the Attorney General to stop illegal spying.
That makes the FISA court into a rubber stamp. The FISA court will not be capable of protecting the civil liberties of the American people under the law that Obama supports.
Barack Obama wrote, “The Inspectors General report also provides a real mechanism for accountability and should not be discounted. It will allow a close look at past misconduct without hurdles that would exist in federal court because of classification issues. The recent investigation uncovering the illegal politicization of Justice Department hiring sets a strong example of the accountability that can come from a tough and thorough IG report.”
The investigations into abuses into the Justice Department are not at all “a strong example” of accountability. What happened as a result of that Inspectors General report you cite, Mr. Obama? Was anyone actually held accountable? Was anyone at all at the Justice Department fired, or even disciplined, as a result of that report? No. Not at all.
The report merely makes suggestions about reforms that could be made, if the Bush Administration wanted to make them. The reforms are not required, and the Department of Justice now has the power to completely ignore them.
You know what has happened as a result of that Inspectors General report that the Barack Obama campaign says so proudly will serve as a model for investigating George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program? Two newspaper articles about the report were written. Then, 29 blog articles were written about what was revealed in those newspaper articles.
That is what Barack Obama promises as “accountability” for George W. Bush’s program that spied on the personal communications of millions of Americans – Americans who were never even suspected of any crime.
Barack Obama is trying to make his supporters forget that even members of Congress have been unable to successfully investigate the extent of Bush’s electronic spying programs and warrantless physical searches of Americans’ homes and offices. If Congress can’t get the job done, why should we send in relatively powerless Inspectors General to accomplish the task?
The FISA Amendments Act that Barack Obama supports severely restricts investigations into George W. Bush’s programs to spy on Americans. It’s a cover up.
Barack Obama wrote, “Given the choice between voting for an improved yet imperfect bill, and losing important surveillance tools, I’ve chosen to support the current compromise.”
What is Barack Obama talking about when he refers to “important surveillance tools?” Think about this for a minute.
That’s right – those “important surveillance tools” are the spying tools of the Protect America Act. Yes, that’s the very same Protect America Act that Barack Obama voted against last year because he said they were unconstitutional and abusive. That’s the very same Protect America Act that Barack Obama, at the beginning of his statement today, said was much, much worse than the FISA Amendments Act.
Now, just a few paragraphs later, Barack Obama is saying that he wants to preserve the spying tools of the Protect America Act.
And what, pray tell, are those spying tools that Barack Obama thinks are so very very important to keep?
1. Electronic spying against Americans on American soil. The government reading your email, listening to your telephone calls, watching where you go on the Internet, and tracking you in other ways through your involvement in other electronic networks. No search warrant. No proof that you’re suspected of any crime. No judicial power to stop the spying.
2. Physical searches of your home or place of work, without you knowing about it. No search warrant. No evidence against you needed. No evidence even of suspicion that you’ve done anything wrong. No judicial power to stop it.
3. People can be thrown in jail for refusing to assist in these search and spying operations.
Numbers 1, 2 and 3 above are what Barack Obama refers to when he talks about “important surveillance tools” from the Protect America Act that he wants to keep in place.
That brings us to Obama’s last substantive justification of his intention to vote for the FISA Amendments Act:
Barack Obama wrote, “I do so with the firm intention — once I’m sworn in as President — to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.”
Pay attention. Pay attention to what Barack Obama wrote in this statement. It’s different from what you may wish it to be.
In this statement, Barack Obama does not promise to stop the spy programs of the Protect America Act and the FISA Amendments Act once he becomes President.
All Obama says is that his Attorney General will do a review of the spy programs, and that his Attorney General will then make recommendations. Barack Obama never says anything about stopping the spy programs.
Barack Obama does not even promise that he will enact his Attorney General’s recommendations.
Also, remember who is the head of the spy programs. It’s the Attorney General. Barack Obama is saying that he will have the Attorney General review what the Attorney General is doing!
Barack Obama does not say that he will attempt to repeal the powers of the FISA Amendments Act. That means that if he becomes President, Obama will retain the power to order the spy on Americans. Even if Barack Obama happens to stop the spy programs, it will be on a completely voluntary basis, and the spy programs will be able to start up again the minute Obama says so.
You may think that Barack Obama is an honorable person who would never abuse these powers, and that he will only use them for good purposes, or that he will decide never to use the spy powers at all.
That is pure guesswork on your part. Don’t guess. Look at what Barack Obama is doing right now. Right now, Barack Obama is voting to give the Presidency, which he soon expects to occupy, essentially unlimited power to spy on Americans.
I don’t think that Barack Obama, charismatic a speaker though he may be, deserves the benefit of the doubt in the case.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s give Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that Barack Obama means only the best, and will be a pure, shining diamond of goodness in the White House.
The powers of the FISA Amendments Act that Barack Obama is poised to vote for are nonetheless extremely dangerous. That’s because America is supposed to be a nation of laws that preserve democratcy, not a nation in which good government depends upon the good character of its leaders.
Whether it is under George W. Bush or Barack Obama, America ought not to be allowed to descend into autocracy. I don’t care whether Barack Obama would be a benevolent dictator. I will not stand by silently as the office of the President is given dictatorial powers.
Today’s statement by Barack Obama was not at all reassuring. On the contrary, it confirmed the worst of my fears about Obama’s intentions.
I have not spent seven and a half years struggling against George W. Bush only in order to have a Democratic replacement adopt the worst of Bush’s policies.
I will not let this go. Obama is proving himself to be just as untrustworthy as John McCain.
Obama has broken trust with us, and that in itself is good enough reason to oppose his campaign for President.