By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 25, 2008; 1:17 PM
A senior Democratic statesman took to the Senate floor yesterday and delivered a jeremiad against President Bush and his lawlessness the likes of which I'm not sure we've ever heard there before.
What set off Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) was the warrantless surveillance bill sent over from the House this week and seemingly assured of passage in the Senate. The bill significantly broadens Bush's spying powers and essentially guarantees civil-lawsuit immunity for the telecommunications companies that cooperated in earlier surveillance efforts.
But to Dodd, it's just the latest indignity from a president who has come to expect a corrupted political system to jettison the rule of law on his say-so.
"Retroactive immunity is on the table today; but also at issue is the entire ideology that justifies it, the same ideology that defends torture and executive lawlessness," Dodd said.
Here is the text and video of his speech.
"If we pass this legislation, the Senate will ratify a domestic spying regime that has already concentrated far too much unaccountable power in the president's hands and will place the telecommunications companies above the law," he said.
"[B]y short-circuiting the judicial process we are sending a dangerous signal to future generations. They see us establishing a precedent that Congress can -- and will -- provide immunity to potential law breakers, if they are 'important' enough. . . .
"I am here today because with offense after another after another, I believe it is long past time to say: 'enough.'
"I am here today because of a pattern -- a pattern of abuse against civil liberties and the rule of law. Against the Constitution -- of which we are custodians, temporary though that status may be. . . .
"I am here today because warrantless wiretapping is merely the latest link in a long chain of abuses. . . .
"What is at stake is nothing less than equal justice -- justice that makes no exceptions. What is at stake is an open debate on security and liberty. . . .
"This bill does not say, 'Trust the American people; Trust the courts and judges and juries to come to just decisions.' Retroactive immunity sends a message that is crystal clear. . . .
"And that message comes straight from the mouth of this President. 'Trust me.' . . .
"What is the basis for that trust?"
Ticking off examples of "an abandonment of the rule of law" -- including the politicization of the Justice Department and the rolling back of habeas corpus rights -- Dodd eventually came to the ultimate case study.
"I don't think you can hold the rule of law in any greater contempt than sanctioning torture," Dodd said. . . .
"Controlled death. Outsourced torture. Secret prisons. Month-long sleep deprivations. The president's personal power to hold whomever he likes for as long as he'd like. It is as if we woke up in the middle of some Kafka-esque nightmare.
"Have I gone wildly off-topic . . . ? Have I brought up a dozen unrelated issues?
"I wish I had. . . I wish that none of these stories were true.
"But, we are deceiving ourselves when we talk about the U.S. attorneys issue, the habeas issue, the torture issue, the rendition issue, or the secrecy issue as if each were an isolated case! As if each one were an accident! When we speak of them as isolated, we are keeping our politics cripplingly small; and as long as we keep this small, the rule of men is winning.
"There is only one issue here. Only one: the law issue.
"Does the president serve the law, or does the law serve the president? Each insult to our Constitution comes from the same source; each springs from the same mindset; and if we attack this contempt for the law at any point, we will wound it at all points.
"That is why I'm here today. . . . Immunity is a disgrace in itself, but it is far worse in what it represents. It tells us that some believe in the courts only so long as their verdict goes their way. That some only believe in the rule of law, so long as exceptions are made at their desire. It puts secrecy above sunshine and fiat above law."
Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald writes: "[I]f I had one wish this week, it would be that any journalist who will ever write or utter the words 'FISA,' 'telecom immunity' or 'Terrorism' would be forced to watch this speech from start to finish without distraction."
Here is more blogger reaction.
Madison Powers warns about the surveillance bill in an opinion column for Congressional Quarterly: "The near-universal refrain is that protection against terrorism depends on its passage. The obvious truth, however, is that while the bill has been bottled up for an extended presidential primary season, the sense of urgency now is based more on the political needs of individual members of Congress than on national security needs.
"Democrats want to remove the issue from the fall campaign, and Republicans rarely miss an opportunity to hyperventilate over scary things, for which fewer civil liberties seems to be the prescription. Democrats, including ones who should know better, capitulated in fear of being blamed for not doing enough to stop a terrorist attack because of an overly developed concern for civil libertarian niceties."
But Powers writes that "the political calculus that it won't matter that much in the end underestimates the extent of its flaws. . . .
"What matters most fundamentally is the protection of individual American citizens who might be spied upon illegally and then left without legal remedy. . . .
"Nothing in the legislation mitigates the threat of promiscuous spying on the public. Nor does it supply a legal remedy for those inappropriately spied upon."
The USA Today editorial board writes that the new bill is flawed: "In many ways, the compromise is no better than the temporary, overly broad law it would replace. The question has never been whether terrorists are a threat to this nation (they are) or whether U.S. intelligence officials should be able to spy aggressively on them (they should). It's how to achieve those ends without trading away the privacy of Americans.
"The Bush administration has repeatedly demanded far more authority than it reasonably needs and insinuated that anyone who opposes its view is soft on terrorism. That's a dismayingly effective argument in an election year when candidates are trying to inoculate themselves against blame for another terror attack. . . .
"[C]ompanies are being given immunity for actions they knew or should have known were illegal, and which have never been fully disclosed. When a president seeks to act illegally, businesses should have a potent incentive to comply with the law and demand a court order. This legislation would do the opposite, weakening the best protection the public has against the monitoring of its communications."
Republican Senator Kit Bond, meanwhile, defends the bill in a USA Today op-ed. Among his arguments: "The agreement also gives vital civil liability protection to companies that answered the call of duty after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Without such protection, it is likely our private partners will refuse to cooperate with future requests for assistance. This is a risk our nation cannot accept."
But as I wrote in my March 3 column, Why Immunity Matters, that is the most specious of all the arguments for immunity. Are the telecoms threatening to not follow lawful orders in the future? That sounds like extortion. Are they saying that without immunity, they'll insist on greater assurance that what they're asked to do is legal? That sounds fine to me. Or are they balking about doing things that we don't even know about?Torture Watch
Scott Shane writes in the New York Times: "A bipartisan group of 200 former government officials, retired generals and religious leaders plans to issue a statement on Wednesday calling for a presidential order to outlaw some interrogation and detention practices used by the Bush administration over the last six years.
"The executive order they seek would commit the government to using only interrogation methods that the United States would find acceptable if used by another country against American soldiers or civilians.
"It would also outlaw secret detentions, used since 2001 by the Central Intelligence Agency, and prohibit the transfer of prisoners to countries that use torture or cruel treatment. The C.I.A. has allowed terrorism suspects to be taken to such countries.
"Among the signers is George P. Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan. 'It's a good time to step back, take a deep breath and set a standard,' Mr. Shultz said in an interview. . . .
"In a similar statement issued Tuesday, 15 veteran interrogators, retired from the military, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the C.I.A., declared torture and other abusive methods 'ineffective and counterproductive.' The group was convened in Washington last week by Human Rights First, an advocacy group. . . .
"A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, noted that Mr. Bush last year issued an executive order on interrogation that outlawed torture and other abuses while preserving the C.I.A.'s right to use some coercive interrogation methods. He said Qaeda terrorists should not be treated the same way uniformed soldiers were.
"Of the C.I.A. interrogation program, he added, 'There's absolutely no question that the program has prevented attacks.'"
(Actually, there's absolutely no proof that the program has prevented attack, not "no question.")
Over at the Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman has the full text of the letter from the group of 200.
The New York Times editorial board applauds the federal appeals court ruling that Huzaifa Parhat, detained for six years in Guantanamo, was improperly labeled an "enemy combatant:" "It is a victory for the rights of detainees -- and a rebuke to the lawless policies of the Bush administration. . . .
"Mr. Parhat's case is the latest in a long line of court rulings rejecting the Bush administration's denial of the most basic human and constitutionally guaranteed rights to Guantánamo's detainees. The administration must start obeying the law now, rather than waiting for yet another court to declare that it has trampled on far too many people's rights."See No Evil
Here's a little nugget to shock even the most jaded Bush watchers.
Felicity Barringer writes in the New York Times: "The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency's conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.
"The document, which ended up in e-mail limbo, without official status, was the E.P.A.'s answer to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required it to determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment, the officials said."
That's right: Just pretend it isn't there.
Barringer continues: "This week, more than six months later, the E.P.A. is set to respond to that order by releasing a watered-down version of the original proposal that offers no conclusion. Instead, the document reviews the legal and economic issues presented by declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.
"Over the past five days, the officials said, the White House successfully put pressure on the E.P.A. to eliminate large sections of the original analysis that supported regulation, including a finding that tough regulation of motor vehicle emissions could produce $500 billion to $2 trillion in economic benefits over the next 32 years."Justice Watch
Carrie Johnson writes in The Washington Post: "Senior Justice Department officials broke civil service laws by rejecting scores of young applicants who had links to Democrats or liberal organizations, according to a biting report issued yesterday.
"The report by the Justice Department inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that a pair of high-ranking political appointees who are no longer with the department had violated department policy and the Civil Service Reform Act by using ideological reasons to scuttle the candidacy of lawyers who applied to the elite honors and summer intern programs. . . .
"The report on the honors and intern programs is the result of the first in a series of investigations into the role that politics may have played in law enforcement and hiring decisions at the Justice Department over the course of the Bush administration. Studies focusing on hiring and enforcement in the troubled civil rights division, the rationale for the U.S. attorneys' dismissal, and the role played by former Justice Department officials including Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales could be issued soon, according to lawyers following the issues."
Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Investigators said they were unable to conclude who gave the orders to start employing a political litmus test, though the report says some of the people interviewed pointed to former Gonzales aide Monica M. Goodling, who resigned last year after acknowledging in sworn testimony that she might have violated the law in evaluating applicants for career positions. Many of the records associated with the interviews were destroyed, the report says."
But let's be blunt: It's absurd to think that these two former appointees came up with this idea on their own, or that their higher-ups didn't know what was going on. So who else is culpable? How high did it go?
And was the White House involved? Perhaps the report wasn't able to track the policy to its source because its authors didn't have the authority to investigate beyond the Justice Department.Iraq Watch
AFP reports that Bush "assured visiting Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Wednesday that he wants a planned long-term US-Iraqi security pact that 'suits the Iraqi government.'
"'We talked about a strategic framework agreement that suits the Iraqi government,' Bush said of the deal, which would set the rules for the US military presence in Iraq after their UN mandate expires late this year.
"'We continue our struggle to our efforts to reach, inshallah, very soon this agreement,' Talabani said in English as they met in the Oval Office, using the Arabic for "God willing."
Here's the White House transcript.Iran Watch
David Martin reports for CBS News: "Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen leaves tonight on an overseas trip that will take him to Israel. The trip has been scheduled for some time but U.S. officials say it comes just as the Israelis are mounting a full court press to get the Bush administration to strike Iran's nuclear complex.
"CBS consultant Michael Oren says Israel doesn't want to wait for a new administration."
Oren: "The Israelis have been assured by the Bush administration that the Bush administration will not allow Iran to nuclearize. The Israelis are uncertain about what would be the policies of the next administration vis-à-vis Iran."
Martin: "Israel's message is simple: If you don't, we will. Israel held a dress rehearsal for a strike earlier this month, but military analysts say Israel can not do it alone. . . .
"The U.S. with its stealth bombers and cruise missiles has a much greater capability. Vice President Cheney is said to favor a strike, but both Mullen and Defense Secretary Gates are opposed to an attack which could touch off a third war in the region."
Michael Hirsh writes for Newsweek: "Some remaining hawks in the U.S. administration have suggested that such action could occur between the November election and Bush's Jan. 20, 2009, departure from office, according to a European diplomat who met recently with U.S. officials but would only speak anonymously because of political sensitivities. Most experts think a U.S. attack is still very unlikely, but Israel, which regards Iran as an existential threat, has begun making threatening noises as well."Pakistan Watch
Robin Wright writes in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration has paid Pakistan more than $2 billion without adequate proof that the Pakistani government used the funds for their intended purpose of supporting U.S. counterterrorism efforts, congressional auditors reported yesterday. Their report concluded that more than a third of U.S. funds provided Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were subject to accounting problems, including duplication and possible fraud. . . .
"'Apparently, the Bush administration cares so little about the hunt for Osama bin Laden that it is barely paying attention to how the Pakistani military is carrying out the fight,' Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. . . .
"In a response included in the report, the Defense Department said the GAO failed to adequately acknowledge Pakistan's 'significant contribution' to fighting terrorism or the 'flexibility' required in 'contingency environments.'"Vietnam and the Philippines Watch
Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush met with the prime minister of Vietnam yesterday to discuss closer ties on trade and greater religious freedom, signifying another step forward in the slow warming of relations between the United States and its communist former enemy. . . .
"Also yesterday, Bush said the United States is sending an aircraft carrier and other Navy vessels in response to the devastating typhoon that struck the Philippines over the weekend.
"After meeting at the White House with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Bush expressed 'our deep condolences to those who suffered' as a result of Typhoon Fengshen. The storm has left more than 1,000 people dead or missing and caused damage estimated at more than $96 million."
But before expressing those condolences, Bush called attention to his chef.
"I want to tell you how proud I am to be the President of a nation that -- in which there's a lot of Philippine-Americans," he said. "They love America and they love their heritage. And I reminded the President that I am reminded of the great talent of the -- of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House. (Laughter.)"
Johanna Neuman blogs for the Los Angeles Times: "Cristeta 'Cris' Comerford was named White House chef in August of 2005, after 10 years as an assistant chef in the White House kitchens."Poll Watch
A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll finds Barack Obama with a commanding lead over John McCain. Whatever could be going on? Well, as Doyle McManus notes in the Los Angeles Times: "The survey found public approval of President Bush's job performance at a new low for the Times/Bloomberg Poll: only 23% approved of the job Bush is doing, and 73% disapproved."
Among the other result: 56 percent of poll respondents said they agreed with the statement that McCain will continue Bush's policies. Nearly half of moderate Republicans view the president of their own party negatively. And most demographic groups, except for his most loyal base, view the president negatively.Legacy Watch
Paul C. Light writes in a Washington Post op-ed: "We've seen the federal government at its worst over the past six months. Consider the controversies over contaminated tomatoes and meat, tainted toys, toxic trailers, counterfeit Heparin, aircraft groundings, veterans' care, missing warheads and unrelenting contract fraud. For every NASA success on the surface of Mars, there seems to be a failure back on Earth.
"Congress and the presidential candidates have yet to connect the dots: The next president will inherit what Alexander Hamilton called a 'government ill executed.'"McClellan Watch
Carla Marinucci writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Scott McClellan - the longtime supporter of President Bush who served as his White House press secretary for nearly three years - said Tuesday he hasn't ruled out registering as a Democrat or voting Democratic for president this year.
'I haven't made any long-term decisions,' McClellan said after an address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, where he received a warm reception from an audience numbering in the hundreds at the Fairmont Hotel."
Danny Westneat writes in his Seattle Times column: "The most remarkable thing about Scott McClellan's book tour to Seattle -- really the only remarkable thing -- is that 800 people showed up to see it. . . .
"Everything in this book -- and all that McClellan told the Town Hall crowd Monday night -- is part of a familiar, sorry tale.
"And yet. There were all those people, thirsting for it.
"Why did they come?
"'I think it's because people feel there still needs to be an accounting, some justice for all this,' said one of the 800, Gifford Jones, 70, of Seattle. 'Hearing the story, from an eyewitness -- it isn't an impeachment hearing, but it's the next best thing. It's like a metaphoric impeachment.'"
Dan Kennedy, writing in the Guardian's opinion section, marvels that McClellan "has emerged as the toast of Washington. . . .
"Dull-witted, clearly out of the loop and uninformed (he admits as much in What Happened, writing that he wasn't even allowed into the daily communications meetings), McClellan stood as a living symbol of the contempt in which Bush and his minions held the press. . . .
"I think McClellan believes what he's saying now, and imagines himself to have arrived at some deep insights into what went wrong in the Bush White House. But deep insight requires deep thought, and there is no evidence to suggest he's any more capable of that today than he was when he was stammering and stumbling through the daily press briefings."Karl Rove Watch
Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro write for MSNBC: "Karl Rove has become to the media this cycle what Dick Morris was for a period of time in the late '90s: media catnip. Whatever Rove says these days -- be it at an event or in a column -- it seems to carry extra cachet with members of the media."
New York Times opinion columnist Maureen Dowd marvels at Rove's latest attack on Barack Obama.
Said Rove: "Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."
Writes Dowd: "Actually, that sounds more like W. . . .
"Unlike W., Obama doesn't have a chip on his shoulder and he doesn't make a lot of snarky remarks. . . .
"He's not Richie Rich, saved time and again by Daddy's influence and Daddy's friends, the one who got waved into Yale and Harvard and cushy business deals, who drank too much and snickered at the intellectuals and gave them snide nicknames."Homage Watch
Jesse McKinley takes note in the New York Times of the San Francisco initiative to rename a sewage plant after Bush, and points out that "Bush may soon be the sole president to have a memorial named after him that you can contribute to from the bathroom."Cartoon Watch
Joel Pett wonders: Now what?