I've written sporadically about FISA and telecom immunity (every few months, it seems: here, here, and here for example), so I'm just going to dive right in. AlterNet has video and a transcript of Keith Olbermann (once again) eviscerating Dubya:
Thus, Mr. Bush, what you and the telecom giants have done isn't unlawful: it's just the kind of perfectly legal, passionately patriotic thing for which you happen to need immunity! [...] That the President was willing to veto this eavesdropping means there is no threat to the legitimate counter-terror efforts underway. As Senator Kennedy reminded us in December:"The President has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA. But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retroactive immunity. No immunity, no FISA bill. So if we take the President at his word, he's willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies." [emphasis added]
Kevin Drum observes at Washington Monthly:
"In the end, the telecoms are big boys with big legal staffs, and they knew exactly what they were doing -- and providing them with retroactive immunity at this point sets a terrible precedent and creates all sorts of perverse incentives to break the law in the future. At this point, if they think they can make a case that they acted in good faith and shouldn't be held accountable, they need to make it to a judge and jury. If they have a good case, they'll win. If they don't, they'll lose."
If they broke the law, as is increasingly apparent, they deserve to lose...and deserve to be punished for it. We shouldn't be excusing illegal acts merely because they were committed at the request of the president. As for Bush's refusal to sign a renewal without telecom immunity, Drum writes the following:
Look, if it's that important, there's a simple answer: pass the bill without telecom immunity. Then come back and introduce immunity in a separate bill. If you've got the votes for it, fine. If not, too bad. I'm against immunity myself -- though hardly hellbent on the subject -- but whichever way the vote went, in the meantime we'd have the FISA extension and surveillance could continue normally.
But that's not on the table. The supposed grownups in the GOP are, apparently, perfectly happy to play around with "life and death" if it's in the service of a bit of demagogic brinksmanship over telecom immunity. Why?
Why? Because immunity obviates the need for accountability, to which Bush's GOP is deathly allergic. It's like holy water to vampires, or silver bullets to werewolves. DNI Mike McConnell claimed in a WaPo op-ed that "providing retroactive liability protection is critical to carrying out our mission," but this is only true if his mission is remaining unaccountable for law-breaking. As Glenn Greenwald noted in his invaluable "FISA 101," "we're not all going to die under FISA:"
"We're not "going dark." FISA is a modern law that was re-written at George Bush's direction and which he himself said allowed for full surveillance on all of the evil Terrorists and all of their complex, super-modern means of communications. None of this has anything to do with the Government's ability to listen in When Osama Calls. It is only about whether the nation's largest telecoms will have pending lawsuits, brought by their customers for breaking the law, dismissed by Congress. Is that really so hard to understand and explain?"
It's easy to understand and explain, but comprehension is not their goal...obfuscation is. Bush and his cronies can't openly demand a sanction for illegality, so their rhetoric relies on the usual fear-mongering. Kudos to the House for (finally!) standing up against it, and shame on the GOP for their little temper-tantrum photo op.