Friday, March 14, 2008

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?

PHILIP BOBBITT, Center for National Security at Columbia University: That's right.


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.
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.

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?

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.


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?


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.
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.

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.

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.
Only problem here is that this purported "emergency" went on for five years or so....

Update 2

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.

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.
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 just out of curiosity, who's this "we" there, Mr. Bobbitt?....


At 6:01 PM, Blogger Margalis said...

"Well, that's the question: Should we allow it?"

Why wouldn't we? Why is that even a question?

On my blog I had a guy make a similar argument: there there is some burning questions that needs to be answered. For the life of me I can't figure out why there is any question at all. Or alternately why this same question isn't relevant for every court case.

At 8:28 PM, Blogger Arne Langsetmo said...

Hi Margalis:

"Or alternately why this same question isn't relevant for every court case."

Indeed. And under our system of law (and gummint), the answer isn't, "should we allow it for the present circumstances?", but rather, "what does the freakin' law say?"....

In this case, it says $1000 liquidated damages per violation. If we want Congress to step in when the results aren't to the liking of the present parties (and interested "amici"), what do we say to those that want their own court cases decided on 'popular opinion' (though that's lacking for the present case) or on the amount of campaign contributions. If court cases were to be decided on public sentiment rather than on laws set down in advance, we'd have a different gummint.....

Thanks for stopping by.


At 7:47 AM, Blogger Mourad said...

Arne: You asked a question on another blog where we both lurk and my reply to you mysteriously disappeared....

The question you asked was whether I was talking about the same Philip Bobbitt when I said he was influential on Neocon thought. The answer is yes.

Here is a fairly full profile:
Bobbit- Independent

I think the disappearance may not be unconnected to what I said about him which was that I considered him brilliant but very dangerous. Politicians think very highly of him - he thinks very highly of himself.

His books are very readable - but dummies reading them might not spot the flaws in his positions - which is why they are dangerous in the hands of politicians.

Tony Blair thought the world of him and that may be why we are the most surveilled society in the Western World bar none.

It is rumoured that he is being considered for an Obama NSC post.

I opined that Obama had the brains to cope with his thought and might well make such an appointment on the basis that (i) He certainly knows where all the NSC bodies are buried since Carter; (ii) he would be useful (iii) although I think he is a total [four letter word], Obama would know that and understand that he would be standing up to his knees in[repeat word]if B was not kept on a tight leash.

That is probably what upset the owner of the particular thread since they are in the same faculty at U Texas - Freedom of Speech in Academia...? If you need more I've enabled the follow-up.


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