FISA Amendments and the Rule of Law

In a speech on the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) said the current debate over amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is not simply one more dispute over intelligence policy. Rather, he said, it calls into question basic issues of democratic governance and the rule of law.

He presented the case against the pending FISA amendments, particularly the provisions that would immunize telephone companies against lawsuits regarding their participation in domestic surveillance.

“Did the telecoms break the law? I don’t know. I can’t say so. But pass immunity, and we will never know,” Sen. Dodd said.

The President’s warrantless surveillance program, he said, is of a piece with other Administration departures from established legal norms including its policies on coercive interrogation and extraordinary rendition, as well as its pervasive secrecy.

“What is this about? It is about answering the fundamental question: Do we support the rule of law or the rule of men? To me, this is our defining question as a nation and may be the defining question that confronts every generation, as it has throughout our history.”

Sen. Dodd and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) announced their intention to filibuster the FISA Amendment bill.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) spoke in favor of the bill, including the provisions on shielding telephone companies from legal liability for their actions.

“Those who are opposed to the President’s efforts to monitor al-Qaida’s communications after 9/11 should take their argument to the President, not to the private companies that patriotically complied with government requests to help this country,” he said.