'Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death'
Editor’s Note: In the hours before its August recess, Congress succumbed to pressure from the Bush administration and passed a loosely written law that effectively legalizes George W. Bush's previously illegal program of warrantless wiretaps.
In this guest essay, political analyst Brent Budowsky takes Republican and Democratic leaders to task for their hasty action on legislation that could have far-reaching consequences for the liberties of Americans:
Patrick Henry’s words ring hollow after Congress passed, and the president signed, a law of enormous constitutional and security importance in an atmosphere of fear, without any semblance of serious debate. Again.
While many members of the House and Senate and leading legal scholars did not fully understand this as the roll was called, this law expands the reach of surveillance of American citizens, on American soil, communicating with those “reasonably” targeted while abroad, without protections that have long existed.
How abusive the implementation of this law will be depends largely on the good faith of an attorney general with little remaining credibility.
America deserves the serious debate that has not been initiated from the original passage of the Patriot Act until today, which is this: How much risk to our security should we accept rather than trammeling time-honored constitutional protections that until now have been supported by a near consensus from left to right and all presidents from either party?
Was Patrick Henry right, that our freedoms are so precious that we should not surrender them lightly? Or was he wrong, and we will casually surrender them with every terror scare, before every congressional recess, during every election cycle?
Should these constitutional protections be surrendered so easily and so timidly with procedures more appropriate for an earmark enacted at midnight by members looking at their watches (in the hope of catching a plane home) and at their poll numbers?
Anyone with experience in intelligence knows: Terrorists are aware they will be eavesdropped upon.
While there certainly must be secrecy to protect sources and methods, there is much kept secret today, not from terrorists but from Americans, that challenge first principles of freedom in an age of executive abuse, congressional submission, and fear politics.
We are told we cannot know the number of terror cells, the level of serious training of terror suspects, how many or how few terror cells have been destroyed through these policies.
We are not permitted to know the true gravity or lack of gravity of the threat. We cannot know what actions were taken to alleviate the threat, what previous actions have been deemed illegal in secret judicial rulings, or why high-level officials objected, while our attorney general testified there was no serious dissent and no previous abuse of rights.
The American people don’t know the truth, and most members of Congress don’t know it either. Nor does the free press.
Whole swaths of American life on the most important issues of our safety have been aggressively removed from our democratic system by those with a poor history of telling the truth and a clear history of fomenting fear for political ends.
Our security is undermined by treating the American people and Congress like sheep who should not be told secrets that terrorists already know.
Shame on Democratic leaders for lacking the courage to make a fight worthy of the occasion. Shame on Republican leaders for being co-conspirators in the destruction of the people’s House and the great deliberative body as a co-equal branch of government.
Shame on politicians who pander to fear, and politicians who succumb to it. Shame on the media that hype it, and highest level officials who oppose this but still lack the courage to speak out clearly. Shame on all who let this happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Shame on Reid and Pelosi, shame on Boehner and McConnell. Shame on those who act like Soviet Politburo members and try to bully a sedated attorney general, and shame on everyone who knows that leading officials of American justice were prepared to resign en masse, in protest, and do not demand to know exactly why.
When Congress returns and the presidential campaign begins in earnest, the question of the hour should be: Are you for Patrick Henry, or against him?
Budowsky serves on the Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit and is a contributing editor to Fighting Dems News Service. He handled intelligence issues for Sen. Lloyd Bentsen when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was originally passed, and was legislative director to Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. Budowsky's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. [This article first appeared in the Hill newspaper.]
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