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PUBLIC COMMENT:

Open Letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski

"Your vote [on the warrantless wiretapping bill] was a disgrace."

Sent to Sen. Mikulski by Sheldon H. Laskin
The Democratic-controlled Congress, once again, caved when all it needed to do was say “NO!” and go home.
Dear Senator Mikulski,

How could you?

How could you be so craven and so unthinking as to approve Bush’s outrageous warrantless wiretapping bill? This outrageous assault on American civil liberties is both unnecessary and far too broadly written in light of the very limited problem it was supposedly designed to address. The bill destroys whatever minimal protections the FISA court gave to civil liberties by converting the court into a formal rubber stamp for any orders signed by Attorney General Gonzales and the director of national intelligence.

As the weekend began, the Congress had negotiated a reasonable compromise with the White House. Bush, typically, then insisted on getting everything he wanted. And the Democratic-controlled Congress, once again, caved when all it needed to do was say “NO!” and go home. There was no emergency driving the Administration’s timing. Instead that timing was due to a combination of the FISA court recently declaring, in secret, that the Administration had used the law in an unauthorized manner and Bush’s patented tactic of introducing a controversial bill just prior to a congressional recess and then insisting that it be passed, virtually sight unseen and with no changes allowed.

In passing the warrantless wiretapping bill, Congress has legitimated Bush’s illegal domestic spying. How in the world can Congress now criticize what it has legitimated by its actions?
In passing this bill, Congress has legitimated Bush’s illegal domestic spying. How in the world can Congress now criticize what it has legitimated by its actions? And how can Congress continue to investigate Gonzales for authorizing illegal spying while at the same time making him one of the judges as to whether surveillance should be authorized? By your vote, you have made yourself complicit in the crimes of this Administration and made a mockery of the Gonzales investigation.

Please do not respond that the bill is only “temporary.” We both know—or at least you should know—what the Administration will argue in six months. First, Bush will say the law has been used responsibly—no way to check that, thanks to your vote; the bill contains no auditing provisions. Next, Bush will say the law is still necessary, which of course is a faith-based assertion not susceptible to objective proof. Then he will say that since Congress already approved the law, there can’t be any serious objection to its legality. And just what will you say to that contention that could pass the laugh test? No, make no mistake about it, you cannot unring this bell—the law is permanent.

The American people in November elected a Democratic-controlled Congress to say “NO!” to Bush’s lawless Administration, not to legitimate its crimes. This was not a situation where 60 votes were required, or even one. All the Congress needed to do was absolutely nothing, just go home. Why are you so afraid? The polls show that Bush’s rule by terror is no longer working, that virtually no one gives him any credence any more. The reason congressional approval ratings are as low as they are is not because the Congress is too “partisan” but because it appears to have no backbone, no point at which it collectively says, “This I will not do.”

Your vote was a disgrace.
Sheldon Laskin, a Baltimore attorney, holds an LL.M in Taxation from the University of Baltimore.


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This story was published on August 8, 2007.