Senator Fumo's remarks on the floor of the Senate, February 7, 2006, regarding George W. Bush's domestic spying program.
This year marks the 300th birthday of one this nation’s most important founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. Institutions and organizations in my home town of Philadelphia are sponsoring an exhibition in his honor. It will later travel to cities throughout the nation.
Yet as we celebrate the birthday of a man who forcefully argued for the principles behind our constitutional democracy, we find that our freedoms are under attack today by the current occupant of the White House, a man who has sworn a sacred oath to uphold the constitution that Franklin and the other founding fathers signed in 1787.
Children learn in elementary school that the essential safeguard upon which our democracy is built is our system of checks and balances, which distributes power among three branches of government. Our founding fathers feared concentrating too much power in an executive. They did not want another King George III or an imperial presidency.
Now, hiding behind a “war on terror,” the man who now holds the reins of executive-branch power has violated the constitution. He has trampled on Fourth Amendment rights. To the horror of many people, regardless of political party, he has engaged in domestic spying, wiretapping American citizens without a warrant. He is King George II of Texas, instead of King George III of England.
You might have noticed in the past several weeks that Karl Rove and the Bush-Cheney spin team has begun referring to this as the “terrorist surveillance program,” implying that anyone who is opposes them is against the surveillance of terrorists. But that is far from the truth. We are, however, against violating the civil rights of Americans.
We know unlimited domestic spying is wrong. Many people in the National Security Agency who refused to participate knew it was wrong. And George W. Bush himself knows he is doing something wrong. That is why, in a speech in Buffalo New York in 2004, before word of his domestic spying program leaked out, he said: “…any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so.”
And the fact is, the government can engage in domestic spying so long as it can demonstrate the necessity to a special court, a secret court, established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.
It is worth taking a moment to recall why the FISA court was established. Richard Nixon, in the early 1970s, secretly wiretapped American citizens who were opponents of the Vietnam War because he said it was a matter of national security. It turns out, as we know now, that many of the people who were spied upon were actually unfriendly journalists and Nixon’s political opponents. And while everyone remembers Watergate for the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters, not everyone recalls today that having the FBI conduct illegal wiretaps without a warrant was one of the grounds of impeachment voted against Nixon in a bipartisan action by the House Judiciary Committee.
And on this occasion, just a week or so after the death of his wife Coretta Scott King, let’s not forget the wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. The same reasoning – national security -- was used then as well.
So with the memory of Watergate still fresh in the public mind in 1978, FISA was enacted. Congress realized that there may be legitimate occasions when the federal government must conduct domestic surveillance for national security reasons, but they also recognized the great potential for abuse if the president could exercise that power unchecked. That is why they created the FISA court.
Since 1978 – about 10,000 requests for surveillance have come before the FISA court, and only four have been denied.
So why did George W. Bush want to avoid going to the FISA court?
It can’t be because they deny warrants. They almost never do.
It can’t be timing. The government, if time is of the essence, can initiate the surveillance immediately as long as it goes before the court to make its case and obtain a warrant within three days.
It can’t be for security reasons. The warrants remain secret.
So why can’t George W. Bush ask for a warrant. He admitted in a 2004 speech that he needs one. What is he afraid of? What is he trying to hide?
When I think back to the arguments about national security that have been used to justify political attacks in the past, I get frightened. When I think of the ruthless, false and underhanded attacks that George Bush and his chief operative Karl Rove have used against their political opponents, even decorated war veterans, I become more frightened still.
In the 2000 primaries, they smeared a former POW and fellow Republican John McCain with false attacks.
In 2002, in a Senate race in Georgia, they smeared Democrat Max Cleland, a man who lost three of his four limbs in Vietnam, with false attacks.
In 2004, they smeared three-time Purple Heart winner John Kerry with the infamous and misnamed Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks.
Now, when ex-Marine Jack Murtha, a congressman form our home state of Pennsylvania, calls for the return of our troops from Iraq because he fears it is weakening our military and actually hurting the war on terror, the Rove operatives smear him with a whispering campaign questioning whether he really deserves his Purple Hearts.
They will stop at nothing, and they have no qualms about trying to destroy anyone who disagrees with their policies.
Just listen to the words of George W. Bush after the news of his domestic spying program broke out, and tell me if this doesn’t frighten you, as a freedom loving-American. The New York Times, which broke the story, and those of us who oppose this domestic spying have been accused of giving, in the words of George Bush, “aid and comfort,” to the enemy.
Those words are the same ones used to define treasonous acts.
So those of us who have a legitimate disagreement with the man in the White House, and who stand up for the constitution and for the basic rights that it guarantees, are essentially being accused of treason. By their logic, that would make us national security risks. This is the very same mentality that Bush uses to justify the domestic spying in the first place, just like Richard Nixon.
We are walking down a very dangerous path with King George II in the White House. The Bush crowd is creating a new form of government, and it is not the same one created by our founding fathers.
This is not a partisan political opinion. There are many Republicans who agree, and who are just as fearful as I am.
Former congressman Bob Barr, a conservative Republican from Georgia, has traveled around the country arguing for changes in the Patriot Act because he is afraid of the potential for abuse of civil rights.
Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – a Reagan appointee to the Supreme Court who voted to put George Bush in the White House in 2000, recently wrote: “A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”
And Senator John Sununu, a Republican from New Hampshire who has expressed concern about domestic spying and has opposed renewing the Patriot Act, has stood on the floor of the United States Senate and quoted Benjamin Franklin with these words: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
We can only pray that George W. Bush would read and comprehend those words.And now I would ask you to honor the sacrifice of two brave Pennsylvanians who lost their lives fighting in Iraq.
First Lieutenant Michael J. Cleary, 24, of Dallas, Pa. died in Taji, on Dec. 20, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during combat operations. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
Staff Sergeant Keith A. Bennett, 32, of Holtwood, Pa., died in Ar Ramadi, on Dec. 11, as the result of a suicide, vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. Bennett was assigned to the Army National Guard's 28th Military Police Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
They are among 2,258 American service men and women killed in the Iraq War. Another 16,653 have been wounded, 7,683 too seriously to return to action.
I pray that their sacrifice will not have been in vain, and that while they have been fighting in Iraq, we will not lose the fight for freedom here at home.
Thank You Madam president.
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo