House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers, Intel Chair Silvestre Reyes, Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy, and Intel Chair Jay Rockefeller wrote a joint op-ed in the Washington Post today on FISA. They push back on the Bush administration’s fear-mongering and offer a clear explanation of how current law in the absence of the Protect America Act still provides our intelligence community with the tools they need to do their jobs. Conyers, Reyes, Leahy and Rockefeller write:
The president may try to change the topic by talking about surveillance laws, but we aren’t buying it.
We are motivated to pass legislation governing surveillance because we believe this activity must be carefully regulated to protect Americans’ constitutional rights. Companies that provide lawful assistance to the government in surveillance activities should be legally protected for doing so.
We are already working to reconcile the House and Senate bills and hope that our Republican colleagues will join us in the coming weeks to craft final, bipartisan legislation. A key objective of our effort is to build support for a law that gives our intelligence professionals not only the tools they need but also confidence that the legislation they will be implementing has the broad support of Congress and the American public.
If the president thinks he can use this as a wedge issue to divide Democrats, he is wrong. We are united in our determination to produce responsible legislation that will protect America and protect our Constitution.
The general arc of the op-ed is more political than philosophical. It rebuts arguments about how this legislative process is having an impact on national security. It also runs basic traps on rejecting violations of the 4th Amendment – but never goes into detail as to how violations of our Constitutional rights are taking place. The four committee heads also make no effort to explain why three of them passed legislation out of their committees that did not include retroactive immunity for telecom giants like Verizon and AT&T who helped the Bush administration spy on Americans without warrant, yet a fourth (Jay Rockefeller) authored a bill to the Bush-Cheney administration’s specifications for immunity.
No doubt the reason the Washington Post op-ed was so soft of the issues of civil liberties and retroactive immunity was because the three pro-Constitution Democrats penned it alongside the anti-Constitution Jay Rockefeller. In this instance, a unified Democratic front against Republican political attacks was more important than a unified front defending the Constitution. While I’m glad Conyers, Reyes, and Leahy are keeping this issue front and center, it’s deeply disappointing that they failed to use this opportunity to fight against the Rockefeller-Bush-Cheney legislation including retroactive immunity that the Senate passed two weeks ago.