Even by the dismal standards of what passes for a national debate on intelligence and civil liberties, last week was a really bad week.
You’re telling me! But, at least, they got around to showing just how awful the situation has become
The telecoms, which are facing about 40 pending lawsuits, believe they are protected by a separate law that says companies that give communications data to the government cannot be sued for doing so if they were obeying a warrant — or a certification from the attorney general that a warrant was not needed — and all federal statutes were being obeyed.
To defend themselves, the companies must be able to show they cooperated and produce that certification. But the White House does not want the public to see the documents, since it seems clear that the legal requirements were not met. It is invoking the state secrets privilege — saying that as a matter of national security, it will not confirm that any company cooperated with the wiretapping or permit the documents to be disclosed in court.
So Mr. Rockefeller and other senators want to give the companies immunity even if the administration never admits they were involved. This is short-circuiting the legal system. If it is approved, we will then have to hope that the next president will be willing to reveal the truth.
Mr. Rockefeller argues that companies might balk at future warrantless spying programs. Imagine that!
[…] This debate is not about whether the United States is going to spy on Al Qaeda, it is about whether it is going to destroy its democratic principles in doing so. Senators who care about that should vote against immunity.
See also Dahlia Lithwick’s Slate piece: Anybody’s Guess: The Legality of Water-Boarding as Work in Progress
That’s how Americans have come to reconcile themselves to illegal warrantless eavesdropping and to prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay. It’s why we’re no longer bothered in the least by the abuse of national-security letters or extraordinary rendition or by presidential signing statements. Deny, admit, codify, then immunize. The law as quickstep.