More positive steps from Democratic candidates on the rule of law, amnesty

Bill Richardson issues a strong statement. Barack Obama elaborates on his statement earlier today. Chris Dodd follows up on his plan to stop the FISA bill.

Published October 24, 2007 8:14PM (EDT)

Following up on the post from earlier today about the statements from Obama and Clinton on telecom amnesty, Bill Richardson has now issued this appropriately emphatic statement against telecom amnesty:

Today the Governor issued the following statement, calling for the United States Senate to stand up to President Bush and reject the proposed bill granting immunity to telephone companies that assisted the government in spying on Americans:
"Like most of his promises, President Bush's inauguration day pledge to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution has been folded away and forgotten. From torture to secret prisons and wiretapping, this administration systematically has stripped away or ignored many of the most basic rights and principles upon which this nation was founded.

"This unprecedented assault on American laws and values, cloaked falsely and irresponsibly in the guise of national security, must be stopped.

"Incredibly, the Senate stands on the verge of abetting another Presidential outrage by considering a bill that would grant immunity to telecommunications companies that admitted to assisting the government in spying on American citizens by disclosing personal information. This bill must not pass.

"We need strong leadership to prevent this latest injustice, not equivocation or political calculation. Senators Clinton and Obama say they will oppose the bill, but are leaving the door open to a potential compromise. There can be no compromise on personal rights and privacy. I urge my Democratic primary opponents, and every Senator, to stand up and state loudly and clearly -- without any equivocation -- that he or she will not pass any bill that grants retroactive immunity to companies that willingly aided the Bush administration in violating the law and spying on our own people.

That is a good statement, and Richardson is absolutely right to criticize the amorphous, non-committal statement reluctantly issued by Clinton (Richardson's statement was obviously issued prior to Obama's issuance of a much clearer and more unequivocal pledge to filibuster any legislation containing amnesty).

Additionally, Obama's campaign has been sending the following statement via e-mail to anyone who inquired and/or complained about his original FISA statement:

Thank you for contacting me about the proposed legislation to give phone companies legal immunity for past wiretapping. I share your strong opposition to this proposal.

I have consistently opposed this Administration's efforts to use debates about our national security to expand its own power, whether that was on the Iraq war, or on its power grab to curb our civil liberties through domestic surveillance programs. It is time to restore oversight and accountability in the FISA program, and this proposal -- with an unprecedented grant of retroactive immunity -- is not the place to start.

This Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. When I am president, there will be no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. Our Constitution works, and so does the FISA court. By working with Congress and respecting our courts, I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom.

That is a solid, principled statement and a clear list of commitments on constitutional and rule of law issues (contrast that with this interview which Clinton gave to Michael Tomasky in which Clinton, when asked about the series of Bush executive power abuses, can bring herself only to promise that she's "gonna have to review everything they've done" -- the same worthless "study" language she included in her FISA statement last night).

Finally, Chris Dodd continues to back up his pretty words with actions -- which, at this point, is all that really matters. His campaign provides here instructions for calling the key Judiciary Committee members (along with a "citizen-generated whip count" to keep track of each member's position on amnesty), along with detailed instructions outlining his plan to stop it.

The statements from Richardson and Obama today were both encouraging, but statements, at the point where we are, are simply not enough. As Atrios said today:

Of the presidential candidates, some currently hold office (Senate: Dodd, Obama, Clinton, Biden; House: Kucinich; Governor: Richardson) and some don't (Edwards, Gravel ).

For the ones who actually hold office I've been much more interested in what they do as officeholders than what they do as candidates. They all say they're great leaders, but some of them currently have the office, stature, and especially for Clinton and Obama, the hefty soapbox from which they can actually ... lead. They have the power to take something which is an issue right now and run with it, instead of thinking about all the wonderfully yummy things they'll do... if they win... 15 months from now.

Most Senate Democrats voted "the right way" on the Military Commissions Act, but they failed and refused to play any meaningful role in the debate, even failing to speak out against it until the very last day, by which point passage was ensured. "Leadership" requires much, more more than obligatorily issued statements and meaningless votes cast on the "right side" that can be touted in a campaign. That is what is being sought, and -- by leading the filibuster and speaking out aggressively on the evils of amnesty -- it is what Dodd has been providing. It isn't too late for the other candidates to do so, too. These efforts are about encouraging that to happen.

The next step of our campaign -- to be launched over the next couple of days -- will be directed at Harry Reid and several other key Senators. Reid, in particular, has an obligation to lead here and speak out in support of the filibuster in light of his previous failure even to indicate that he will extend basic Senatorial courtesy by honoring Dodd's hold.

The most significant and encouraging aspect of all of this, by far, has been that all of this has happened solely because tens of thousands of people devoted to the rule of law and our basic Constitutional liberties have demanded it. That has single-handedly catalyzed Dodd's leadership, compelled the other candidates to speak out against amnesty, and has forced attention to be paid to these issues. That progress -- all achieved in barely a single week -- is significant and should not be overlooked.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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