A maladministration flack struggles with his PAA/FISA "talking points"....
Columbia University law perfesser Philip Bobbitt, toady for the maladministion's lawbreaking, struggles to get his prepared points across in a mini-debate on PBS's Newshour with Jim Lehrer (Caroline Fredrickson of the ACLU carries the anti-immunity side):
JIM LEHRER: Now, Professor Bobbitt, you support immunity for the telecom companies, is that correct?Punishing people for stuff that hasn't happened is generally thought to be poor form. Perhaps Bobbitt doesn't understand this facet of justice, though.
PHILIP BOBBITT, Center for National Security at Columbia University: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: Why?
PHILIP BOBBITT: You want to think not so much about the past, about punishing the telecoms for something that's already happened. It is about the future.
And, given his mission to defend the maladministration, I can appreciate the impetus behind Bobbitt's plea, "Uhhh, can't we just move on?....", but retroactive immunity is hardly "about the future".
JIM LEHRER: Just to go back to something I asked before, I'm not sure I understood correctly what you were saying. What is it that these lawsuits, the retrospective -- in other words, the lawsuit that's filed against a telecom company for what it did, say, in 2001, what is the purpose of that lawsuit? What is it they want to get from -- the people suing the companies, what is it they want?Yeah, Congress could do that.... Oh. Wait. In fact, that's precisely what they did, when they went and passed the FISA law back in 1978 and gave people a right to sue for civil damages when the law was violated.
CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Well, ultimately, they want accountability. They want...
JIM LEHRER: No, but, I mean, how does that -- accountability, what does that mean?
CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Well, in some cases, that can be damages.
JIM LEHRER: OK.
CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Some of the cases look for damages, but others are looking for...
JIM LEHRER: And the plaintiffs would be whom?
CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: The plaintiffs are a variety of customers of the different communications companies that have been sued, from AT&T and Verizon to others.
JIM LEHRER: And they're suing for damages on the basis that their privacy was violated illegally?
CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Yes. Yes.
JIM LEHRER: What's wrong with that, Professor Bobbitt? Why shouldn't these people have a right to sue and get damages, if the court system allows it?
PHILIP BOBBITT: Well, that's the question: Should we allow it? And there are many interests involved here.
Of course, if people's privacy was violated, perhaps there should be some way of compensating it. Indeed, Congress could do that.
I pity the poor students in Bobbitt's classes....
Bobbitt really pushes the "Can't we just move on?...." meme. It's all about the future, and that's why we have to give immunity for past law violations. The maladministration/GOP/RW Wurlitzer/Bobbitt "talking point" is apparently that, when we need people to assist the gummint break the law in emergencies, we don't want them to hesitate to break the law and put themselves in legal jeopardy, and thus we want to assure them we'll give 'em a 'pardon' if they do. Hell, don't we want these fine "patriotic" companies to help out illegally next time we have an emergency? Here's how it flows:
PHILIP BOBBITT: You want to think not so much about the past, about punishing the telecoms for something that's already happened. It is about the future.Only problem here is that this purported "emergency" went on for five years or so....
How can you, in thinking of an unanticipated emergency, take steps that will maximize the cooperation not just of telecoms, but of the private sector generally? That's the objective.
It's not about punishing corporate America. It's about securing cooperation at a time when you need it, in circumstances you really can't anticipate.
More of Bobbitt's persiflage:
PHILIP BOBBITT: But, again, just to sort of belabor this point [not that Bobbitt's doing anything of the sort, of course], I wish we could raise our sights a little bit and try and anticipate the future, try and look to those very difficult times that we really can't sort out right now in the midst of such technological change.I'd note that James Bamford, in his books (including "The Puzzle Palace" on the NSA), recounts that this is precisely the tactic used by the gummint to talk the third of the three big cable (telegram) providers many decades ago into going along with the other two and turning over -- every day -- the whole day's complete international traffic. In fact, it was the exposure of this "Operation Shamrock" -- along with the domestic spying abuses of the Nixon administration in COINTELPRO -- that led to the outrage and the passage in 1978 of the FISA law that outlawed such.
And imagine the time when, for good reasons and good faith, we go to private companies and say, "The law is kind of murky here. Your general counsel says you shouldn't comply; some general counsels have already said they will. But we need your help."
Do we want to make it easier or harder? Do we want to maximize the chances of cooperation or do we want to qualify them? I think that's really the basic question here.
And just out of curiosity, who's this "we" there, Mr. Bobbitt?....