The vote came two and a half years after public disclosure of the wiretapping program set off a fierce national debate over the balance between protecting the country from another terrorist strike and ensuring civil liberties.
Funny, I don't remember a "fierce national debate," I remember the blogs quickly shooting down all the legalistic arguments that the Bush Administration brought up and I remember the traditional media just giving the whole issue a yawn and a pass. It would have been a debate had the Bush Administration ever been able to muster any real arguments for their side, but aside from those early legalistic arguments, they just relied on fearmongering and on throwing money at the Blue Dog Democrats to split the Democratic vote. At no point did they ever convincingly show that America had to surrender its civil liberties in order to be safe from the terrorists. As Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) pointed out:
I sit on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, and I am one of the few members of this body who has been fully briefed on the warrantless wiretapping program. And, based on what I know, I can promise that if more information is declassified about the program in the future, as is likely to happen either due to the Inspector General report, the election of a new President, or simply the passage of time, members of this body will regret that we passed this legislation. I am also familiar with the collection activities that have been conducted under the Protect America Act and will continue under this bill. I invite any of my colleagues who wish to know more about those activities to come speak to me in a classified setting. Publicly, all I can say is that I have serious concerns about how those activities may have impacted the civil liberties of Americans. If we grant these new powers to the government and the effects become known to the American people, we will realize what a mistake it was, of that I am sure.
Which doesn't sound to me as thought members of Congress were fully briefed and informed. In fact:
None but a few government insiders knows what they’ve got, who gets to look at it, what becomes of it. And because the FISA revision bill gives the telecoms immunity from lawsuits, we may never know the extent of this illegal spying. More important, we won't know how our private information becomes misinterpreted and misused – that is, used against us, without us knowing why or being able to do anything about it.
Only a handful in Congress have been briefed, and given this Administration's pervasive lying, we have no reason to trust that even these few were told the truth. Most in Congress remain blissfully ignorant of what these programs involve, and their attempts to explain their support for the revisions reveal they have no clue what they’re approving.
Back on 5 May, when the bill was still just an awful rumor, FDL pointed out that:
There is no public outcry to "free Dick Cheney." There is no constituency ready to storm the halls of Congress unless the telecoms are given immunity, just a lot of K Street money pouring into the coffers of the Blue Dogs.
I guess the most utterly pathetic statement had to come from Speaker Pelosi:
Democrats pointed to some concessions they had won. The final bill includes a reaffirmation that the FISA law is the “exclusive” means of conducting intelligence wiretaps — a provision that Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House speaker, and other Democrats insisted would prevent Mr. Bush or any future president from evading court scrutiny in the way they say that the N.S.A. program did.
But keep in mind that FISA was already the "exclusive" means for the American government to spy on the American people. The Bush Administration never found any legal way to get around that provision. They simply ignored it in a procedure known as "breaking the law."
To brag that Democrats got the bill to reaffirm a law that everyone knew should be followed is hardly a victory to crow about. Will Bush continue to break the law? Seems doubtful as the bill allows him more or less unlimited freedom to act as he sees fit. Kinda like saying "The thieves were having trouble removing the statues from my garden, so I knocked down a section of the wall so they could simply carry the statues out to the street" and then bragging that you've prevented the thieves from tracking mud from the garden into the house.
Update: Now that I've thought it over a bit and have done some more reading, I should mention that the ACLU and The Nation have decided to initiate lawsuits against the FISA cave-in atrocity of a bill.
[The Nation] filed suit along with a coalition of other plaintiffs including Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, Global Fund for Women, PEN American Center, Washington Office on Latin America, Service Employees International Union and several private attorneys.
Also, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is determined to continue it's suit against AT&T and Strange Bedfellows is building up a campaign war-chest to take on selected "Blue Dog Democrats" (They're up to over $325,000 as of the evening of 10 July). Blue America just awarded $1000 in campaign contributions to each of a dozen of the pro-FISA stalwarts who hung tough in there. And:
Davin Hutchins at the American News Project follows the money trail to find out how telecom dollars influence Congressmen to say what they say and vote the way they do.
So no, the fight is FAR from over!