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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Reply to Senator Obama by “Get FISA Right”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on July 7th, 2008

I don’t usually just cut and paste a post, but this will be an exception. I’ve added a couple of links within the post; to see the reply itself, click the first link below. “Get FISA Right” is a group primarily organized at the Obama campaign web site “mybarackobama.com.”

An Open Letter to Senator Obama
From the 20,000+ members of the my.BarackObama.com group
“Senator Obama – Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity – Get FISA Right”

Dear Senator Obama,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to us with your post “My Position On FISA” dated July 3rd, 2008. In your response, you pledged to “listen to [our] concerns, take them seriously, and seek to earn [our] ongoing support,” and in that spirit, we would like to continue this conversation. We ask that you help transfer our passion and political activism into getting the FISA bill right — now.

Senator, as a legal scholar who has done extensive study of our country’s constitution you know that the FISA re-authorization bill currently before the Senate (HR 6304) threatens the rights guaranteed to American citizens in the Constitution, especially the Fourth Amendment.

One of the most troubling parts of this bill is its provision to provide retroactive immunity from civil lawsuits for telecommunications companies that may have assisted the Bush administration in violating the civil rights of Americans. You wrote in your statement that you “support striking Title II,” which provides this immunity, “from the bill, and will work with Chris Dodd, Jeff Bingaman and others in an effort to remove this provision in the Senate.”

We ask that you back up your words with action by addressing your constituents on the floor of the Senate with the same oratorical power you used in Philadelphia to lay out your vision of a ‘More Perfect Union.’ The American people have just as much right to know of the dangerous precedent this Congress would be setting by granting retroactive immunity to those who “may have violated the law” and allowing spying on law-abiding citizens as we did to relearn of segregation and Jim Crow. The arm of government oppression reaches far and wide, Senator, and we must beat it back on whatever front we find it.

We ask you to reconsider your current position on the bill as a whole and strongly oppose a bill about which you said, “I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect. I wouldn’t have drafted the legislation like this, and it does not resolve all of the concerns that we have about President Bush’s abuse of executive power.” In your statement you also wrote, “In a dangerous world, government must have the authority to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people. But in a free society, that authority cannot be unlimited.” We agree. Our nation just spent the holiday weekend in celebration of our independence from unlimited government authority. America in 1776 wished to be strong and free. Much has changed in 232 years but Americans will never consciously abandon freedom.

Senator, while you wrote that not passing this bill would result in the government “losing important surveillance tools,” these important surveillance tools are in fact blanket surveillance programs already underway solely due to the passage of the Protect America Act, which you rightly opposed and voted against. This is only one example of how, even without the provisions for retroactive immunity, this bill is still dangerous to the civil liberties of American citizens.

As we understand it Senator, your oath to uphold the Constitution requires you and others in the Congress to vote against HR 6304.

We appreciate your willingness to continue the discussion. We represent a large and vocal part of the movement you have nurtured and that has nurtured you during this campaign season, and include many of your most active and ardent supporters. As you have said time and again Senator, “we are the ones we have been waiting for,” and we are here, working to bring about real change in Washington. We have grown to over 20,000 strong in the space of just a few days. We are lobbying our representatives, and working to get our friends, relatives and neighbors to do the same. We are organizing support for removing the immunity provisions for telecommunications companies and building opposition to this dangerous bill in its entirety.

Working together, we have a better chance to assist Senators Dodd and Bingaman, and can achieve what your commitment to us, your supporters, has been before your recent change in position. Together, we can protect our civil rights and continue to keep America safe. Please join us and let’s work together to Get FISA Right.

I think this is a very decent attempt to keep the lines open between a large group of Obama supporters and Obama; it’s polite without being groveling, and positive without being naive. I’m afraid it’s also unlikely to succeed in gaining Obama’s “no” vote against HR6304; it will be interesting to see whether Obama will exert himself on behalf of Bingaman’s and Dodd’s amendments, and how many Obama supporters those exertions will pacify.

In an odd formulation in his July 3d statement, Obama spoke of being “happy to take my lumps” on this issue.  Too bad he seems happier to take them from opponents of this misbegotten legislation than from its proponents.

2 Responses to “Reply to Senator Obama by “Get FISA Right””

  1. Nell Says:

    Yeah, this has all the feel of a collection of votes carefully falling just short of enough to pass the Dodd or Bingaman amendments. My prediction: 46 and 51.

    {Sigh}

  2. Nell Says:

    Oh, and 62+ for final passage.

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