Are the Democrats Capitulating on Civil Liberties?

The Washington Post reports today that the Democrats have proposed a compromise bill on surveillance of potential terrorists. The story does not give enough details of the program to truly assess its legality, but one questions why Congress is willing to pass a bill at such a time.

The Bush Administration has continuously broken the law in its surveillance of “potential terrorists.” Shortly after September 11th, the Administration began a broad surveillance program that went beyond the bounds of US law. Although the FISA court had been established to address such issues, the administration did not seek approval of its activities through lawful routes: instead, it unilaterally instituted a surveillance program that, willfully or accidentally, tapped into the phone lines of American citizens. The true extent of the program is still not known.

The Democrats’ are in sticky position: they should be pursuing investigations of the Administration’s illegal activities, but they do not want the blame for another terrorist attack to fall on them. They should stand up and defend the civil liberties that make our country great. Numerous accounts of pre-9/11 intelligence have indicated that we had the information we needed to stop an attack; the Bush Administration’s negligence was a major contributing factor to the successful attack that day. We have the tools to prevent another attack if they are only used properly. Furthermore, this Administration has used the ‘imminent threat’ of an attack for political gains.

By passing the bill currently before Congress, the Democrats would be providing cover to the Administration’s illegal activities. For the cynic, there should be no surprise that the Administration is pushing for such a bill at a time when the Attorney General is under scrutiny for lying to Congress on the issue of the very same surveillance techniques (the audacity of the Administration to propose that the Attorney General himself should be the one and only supervisor of surveillance activities is shocking). The Democrats should not give cover to the president’s illegal activities, and they should stand strong against this latest assault on civil liberties. At some point we must realize that our cravenness for a sense of security has stripped us of anything worth protecting.

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