The FISA Giveaway | Torture Becomes Routine | Conservatives Sweating About an Obama Court

Feingold on FISA—Speaking at the New American Foundation the last week in June, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) argued that Senate Democrats, including Barack Obama, are wrong on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) compromise the House and Senate reached with the Bush administration. Feingold said the immunity provision for telephone companies that engaged in warrantless surveillance of American citizens is bad policy and “It may well prevent us from ever getting to the core issue . . . which is that the president ran an illegal program which I think is potentially equivalent to an impeachable offense.”

But immunity for telecoms is not the central issue, Feingold said, emphasizing that it has shifted the focus of the Congress and the public from the most critical question regarding FISA. The compromise bill provides no real judicial oversight or any restraint on surveillance. “I just hold up my Blackberry and say anytime you e-mail your daughter or text message her in England, anybody who contacts your son or daughter in Iraq, anyone who has a kid who’s on junior year abroad, anyone who has a business associate anywhere around the world, that information is all sucked up in a data base over which there is essentially no control, for the first time in American history,” Feingold said. “This is an astonishing giveaway.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) postponed until July a vote on FISA that he had scheduled for late June. Feingold, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Chris Dodd (D-CT) are leading the Senate opposition to the bill, which will probably pass, because Senate Democrats will capitulate, as did House Democrats. Feingold said the House was better than the Senate on FISA. “The House at least stood firm for a while,” he said, describing what has become the principled position of the Democratic Congress: standing firm for a while.

Some Obama supporters have responded quickly to their candidate’s position on FISA, signing on to a protest on the Obama campaign’s website. Five days after the group was set up, it had more than 6,500 members and an action plan to pressure the senator on the issue.

Torture Was Policy—The Spanish daily El País reports another account of Americans torturing an innocent prisoner in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay. Omar Deghaye, a Libyan resident of England, was arrested in Pakistan shortly after the 9/11 attacks, by bounty hunters who sold him to American authorities. Deghaye says he was taken to Baghram Air Force Base north of Kabul and subjected to torture and interrogation until he was moved to Guantánamo in 2002.

His story is strikingly similar to what Murat Kurnaz told the Washington Spectator last summer and repeated to a House committee in May [see the Spectator‘s July 1, 2007 issue]. These stories, and there are others, reveal a pattern of initial interrogation using torture, then continued harsh interrogation that sometimes rose to the level of torture at Guantánamo. Taken together the accounts confirm that torture was not random, but rather policy.

The reporting out of El País‘s London bureau lacks the requisite “alleged” or “claimed to have” that has prefaced accounts of former Guantánamo detainees in the U.S. press. It is now largely accepted in Europe that torture was routinely used by the United States. And it is in the European courts of law that the individuals responsible for torture as policy—John Woo, David Addington, Jay Bybee, Alberto Gonzales, et al.—are likely to be charged in the future. And detained for trial, if they risk travel to Europe.

A Canonical Court?—Christian extremist opinion leaders are warning about a Barack Obama Supreme Court, which might include replacements for Justices John Paul Stephens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter. The Traditional Values Coalition’s Lou Sheldon warns that decisions on habeas corpus and the death penalty show “why it’s important that Americans choose the right person to assume the presidency in January 2009.” Vision America’s Rick Scarborough said Obama is “no friend of Bible-believing Christians,” and that Obama has “never seen an unborn fetus that he wouldn’t abort.” Focus on the Family’s Tim Minnery accuses Obama of “sacrilegious views.” Minnery’s boss, James Dobson (not exactly a noted authority on the Constitution), criticized Obama’s “fruitcake interpretation” of the Constitution.