Saturday, July 11, 2009

Don't Squander This Opportunity


I wanted to expand on something I said in my last post about the recent Inspector General's report so that nobody misses the point. Many people in the blogosphere and the mainstream press are now using the occasion of the release of the Inspector General's report to resume their pursuit of John Yoo and their denunciations of Dick Cheney. If that is all that comes out of this story it will have been a failure.

What should come out of this story is a recognition that Congress has legitimated a new set of intelligence practices that can affect American citizens as well as people overseas. Congress needs to beef up its oversight concerning how the Obama Administration is implementing the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.

The mere fact that Obama is now in the White House is not a justification for rejoicing or for thinking that we have dodged a bullet and forestalled a threat to our civil liberties. Presidents by their nature like to have power because they feel they need it to keep the country safe. Obama is no exception to this rule. The U.S. Congress, frightened and manipulated by George Bush, Dick Cheney and conservative demagogues, gave their blessing to lots of new surveillance powers with only vague limits. Whether those powers will be used well or badly will depend on Congressional oversight and executive branch implementation. That is where we should be focusing our attention now. If we do not use the release of this report to focus attention on these matters-- the implementation of this powerful and important new surveillance statute-- it will have been a lost opportunity.

The Obama Administration is continuing a long term bipartisan project of constructing our National Surveillance State. If we don't pay attention to how that state is being constructed, and what checks and balances are built into its contours, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

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