Letter in the Aug. 15 Tomahawk Leader -
To the Editor:
I’m writing in reference to the so-called “compromise” on surveillance oversight, between Sen. Arlen Specter (chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee) and Vice-President Dick Cheney. It is one of the most outrageous and dangerous pieces of legislation I can remember in my lifetime, and considering some of the recent output of this congress, that’s saying a mouthful.
What kind of a “compromise” can this be when it grants new powers to the executive branch that even they haven’t yet claimed?
*Making the appeals process secret, involving only judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (who was appointed by the logical defendant, in the case)? Nothing like putting the fox in charge of the hen-house security, is there?
*A black-out on Congress and the courts? The executive branch wouldn’t even have to tell congress or the courts the names, or even the numbers, of people who are under surveillance. That would allow for real oversight, wouldn’t it? How is congress supposed to provide any kind of oversight if they can’t even find out how many people are under surveillance, let alone who those people are – or why they’re under surveillance?
*Making oversight by the FISA court optional? Can anyone believe that there would ever be a case in which this administration would go through the FISA court if the law said it was optional?
This isn’t a bill on oversight of executive surveillance programs at all. It’s a total capitulation, and reneging on Congress’s duty to exert some measure of restraint on the executive branch for the protection of the American people. Apparently Sen. Specter has given up on protecting the people and the Constitution which he swore to uphold and protect.
I’ve always respected Arlen Specter as a moderate who cared more about the people of this country, and the constitution they rely on for protection, than for partisan politics. However, I can no longer say that, after his total capitulation on this bill. The powers that it would grant to the executive branch, with no functional oversight by congress, would usher in the potential for the most draconian and Orwellian period this nation has ever seen.
I remember the FBI files of the 60s and 70s. I remember how our own government used their surveillance authority to stifle dissent during that period. It was precisely because of the executive’s abuse of their authority that such things as the FISA court was established.
The McCarthy era took place when I was too young to know what was going on, but the legacy of that period should be enough to warn this nation of the potential there is for abuse when the government turns on its own people and uses its intelligence and surveillance resources for political purposes. (Just take a look at China for a clear example of this type of government power.)
We cannot allow these black periods in our history to be repeated. We must remain vigilant and not allow our government to get out of the control of the people again. There must be oversight of government intelligence agencies and surveillance at all levels. If ever there was a time to call on our senators and representatives to stop this travesty, it’s now!
Yes, there are threats facing this nation. Yes, the government has an obligation to use whatever legal means they have to protect us from those threats. But we must also remember that freedom necessarily involves some measure of risk. As a great American once said, “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.” The passage of this so-called “compromise” is exactly what Ben Franklin was talking about, because if this becomes the law of the land ....
We’re likely to have neither security – nor freedom.
Clare and Peggy Herbison