Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Take the Terkel challenge

While Marcy Wheeler explains how Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and his Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have drafted a law on warrantless surveillance that not only gives retroactive immunity to the telecoms for their illegal complicity in White House supervised domestic spying, but immunizes President Bush and then WH Counsel Alberto Gonzales for their intentional violations of US Code and DoJ guidelines, as well, Studs Terkel, a plaintiff in one of the suits against the telecoms, puts the whole program in chilling context.

Terkel, writing in the New York Times, details a history of government transgressions that color his long life. From the Palmer raids, through the Red Scare, and on past protests for Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War, Terkel’s humanitarianism landed him on many lists, including the blackest one:

In the 1950s, during the sad period known as the McCarthy era, one’s political beliefs again served as a rationale for government monitoring. Individual corporations and entire industries were coerced by government leaders into informing on individuals and barring their ability to earn a living.

I was among those blacklisted for my political beliefs. My crime? I had signed petitions. Lots of them. I had signed on in opposition to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes and in favor of rent control and pacifism. Because the petitions were thought to be Communist-inspired, I lost my ability to work in television and radio after refusing to say that I had been “duped” into signing my name to these causes.

Terkel explains how every movement for social justice was met with more secret government surveillance—of private citizens, journalists, even members of Congress—until a congressional committee with a backbone and a belief in the Constitution pulled back the curtain:

Then things changed. In 1975, the hearings led by Senator Frank Church of Idaho revealed the scope of government surveillance of private citizens and lawful organizations. As Americans saw the damage, they reached a consensus that this unrestrained surveillance had a corrosive impact on us all.

In 1978, with broad public support, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which placed national security investigations, including wiretapping, under a system of warrants approved by a special court. The law was not perfect, but as a result of its enactment and a series of subsequent federal laws, a generation of Americans has come to adulthood protected by a legal structure and a social compact making clear that government will not engage in unbridled, dragnet seizure of electronic communications.

President Bush, as Terkel explains, tore up the FISA law and violated the social compact—and, I might add, unilaterally voided the Constitution—purportedly to save the country from some terrorist threat. But, we now know that the electronic dragnet predated the attacks of 9/11, and so, in reality, fits more appropriately into the dark history of government repression that Studs Terkel has experienced for some 90-odd years.

Terkel understands that the SSCI bill violates the Fourth Amendment, runs counter to current case law, and deprives him, and all of us, of a chance to air grievances and redress the wrongs in court. But Terkel, in that proud and pragmatic way that he has, washes away the cynicism and invokes a wisdom that “Jell-O Jay” can’t even hope to buy with his tens of thousands of telco dollars:

Given the facts and an opportunity to act, the body politic generally does the right thing. By revealing the truth in a public forum, the American people will have the facts to play their historic, heroic role in putting our nation back on the path toward freedom. That is why we deserve our day in court.

Can J-Rock, or DiFi, or any of the other members of the Intel Committee honestly say otherwise? Can “Give ‘em Hash Harry” Reid really contradict Studs? Would any of them, Democrat or Republican, dare to tell Terkel he’s wrong?

How about we ask? Here is a list of the members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

Rockefeller (D-WV)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Wyden (D-OR)
Bayh (D-IN)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Feingold (D-WI)
B. Nelson (D-FL)
Whitehouse (D-RI)

Bond (R-MO)
Warner (R-VA)
Hagel (R-NE)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Snowe (R-ME)
Burr (R-NC)

as well as the ex officio members:

Reid (D-NV)
Levin (D-MI)
McConnell (R-KY)
McCain (R-AZ)

If you live in any of these states, why not give your Senator a call. Ask him or her if he or she is aware of the Studs Terkel piece. Offer to send over a copy. Read a staffer the last paragraph about the American people deserving all the facts and their day in court. Wave off the SSCI rationalizations that Wheeler so carefully refutes. And then ask if the Senator stands with Studs Terkel or against him. Challenge them to tell a 95-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner that he doesn’t understand what America is all about.

I’m curious what you will hear.

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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