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Democrats Prepare to Grant Telecoms Immunity for Illegal Spying

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House and Senate Democratic leaders are reportedly preparing to cave in to threats by President Bush and grant some form of immunity to the telecommunication companies that helped the government spy on Americans. We speak to attorney and blogger Glenn Greenwald. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: House and Senate Democratic leaders are reportedly preparing to cave in to threats by President Bush and grant some form of immunity to the telecommunications companies that helped the government spy on Americans. The compromise bill would also expand government authority to eavesdrop on the international phone calls and email messages of US citizens without warrants.

House Democrats had let the temporary surveillance law expire last month rather than back a new law approving the telecom immunity. The Bush administration has fiercely lobbied for granting immunity to companies that helped government spying. In a speech before the National Association of Attorneys General Monday, President Bush said Americans should thank the telecom companies for providing what he called “a patriotic service.”

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: There’s a lot of legal complexities on the FISA renewal debate, but the real issue comes down to this: to defend the country, we need to be able to monitor communications of terrorists quickly and be able to do it effectively. And we can’t do it without the cooperation of private companies. Now, unfortunately, some of the private companies have been sued for billions of dollars, because they are believed to have helped defend America after the attacks on 9/11.

    Now, the question is, should these lawsuits be allowed to proceed, or should any company that may have helped save American lives be thanked for performing a patriotic service? Should those who stepped forward to say we’re going to help defend America have to go to the courthouse to defend themselves, or should the Congress and the President say thank you for doing your patriotic duty? I believe we ought to say thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com, author of A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency. He joins me on the phone right now.

Can you talk about this legislation that could well be passed in the next two days?

GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. The legislation is exactly what the White House drafted along with Jay Rockefeller. It grants a vast new authority to the President to eavesdrop on the conversations and spy on the emails of Americans without warrants of any kind, and it grants full-fledged immunity to the telecommunication companies that broke the law for years by allowing spying on American citizens. That’s the bill that the Senate passed and that the House looks almost certain to pass now.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s changed? Why is the House caving?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I think it was clear from the beginning that the House refused to pass the bill in time for the deadline, not because they care about warrantless eavesdropping or the rule of law, but just because they were a little bit upset that they weren’t given as much time as they wanted. They were — had the bill dropped in their lap and told they only had a couple of days to pass it. They were really angry at the Senate, not at the White House. And so, they threw a little tantrum, and they said, you know, we’re not going to capitulate within a matter of a couple days; we want a few weeks in order to capitulate to the President. And they were always willing to pass the bad bill, but what they did was they picked this, you know, very dramatic fight, subjected their members to all kinds of attack ads, always at the intention of surrendering at the end. There were really just defending these procedural customs about not being pressured into doing it. They were never defending the substance that’s at stake.

AMY GOODMAN: And what exactly, if this bill is passed, will it mean, Glenn Greenwald?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, it’ll mean that all of the lawsuits that exist now against the telecommunications company that the customers have been winning in court, on the grounds that what the telecoms did was legal, will all be — disappear. They’ll just go away forever. And because Congress hasn’t investigated what the President has done, and because the media has been virtually inactive in doing so, that’ll mean that the last hope for finding out how the Bush administration spied on us for all those years will be just completely abolished, and we’ll lose the ability to find out what our government did for all those years in breaking the law and in spying on us. That’s the real reason the White House wants this bill, and that’s what the Congress is about to do, is to hand the President the ability to conceal that behavior for years and years and years.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, thanks very much for joining us. His book is called A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency. He blogs for Salon.com.

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