Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Did the Dems Get Out-maneuvered on Warrantless Wiretapping?

Civil liberties activists are justifiably angered over Congress' recent acquiescence to Bush administration demands to legalize warrantless wiretapping provisions as part of the misleadingly named Protect America Act.

Nancy Talanian of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee said, "By passing the 'Protect America Act', Congress has shirked its responsibility to serve as a check on the executive branch and has stripped the FISA court of oversight until 120 days after a wiretap involving a U.S. citizen begins."

Now Alberto Gonzales and the Director of National Intelligence get to decide if they are going to eavesdrop on your telephone calls, your e-mails, etc.

Insider accounts of the backdoor dealings between congressional Democrats and Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell indicate, however, the Democrats feel that McConnell acted politically on behalf of the Bush administration by pronouncing negative judgments on a series of proposals made by the Democrats in the week leading up to the vote.

Democrats say that McConnell had previously agreed to a compromise proposal that protected judicial oversight over the wiretapping program, but then apparently allowed himself to be used by the White House to pressure Congress into accepting the White House's demands.

McConnell was used as a smokescreen to distance the president, whose own credibility on national security matters is non-existent, from the wiretapping proposal and lend credibility to claims of a looming terrorist threat and the urgent need for drastic measures. Sen. Trent Lott all but promised a terrorist attack if this bill wasn't passed.

If the Democrats had stuck to their guns on protecting civil liberties and Constitutional rights, they would not have been out-maneuvered by Bush (re: Rove) on this matter. But it is also clear that the discourse on terrorism needs to change. National politicians need to be held accountable for fear-mongering and lying to the public about threats.

Watch out, because this same White House tactic (with Rove's fingerprints all over it) is being prepared for next month's report by General Petraeus. Because Petraeus has a smidgeon more credibility than Bush on the war, he will be delivering a report on "progress" in Iraq.

Democrats might not succeed in the PR battle by attacking Petraeus' credibility, but by holding the White House responsible for a failed policy with the only viable option for progress being bringing the troops home, Democrats may be able to avoid letting themselves be out-maneuvered again.

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