Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Ghost of Reagan and Governments Past: The House Moves to Secret Session to Discuss FISA Revisions and the Issue of Retroactive Immunity

Washington D.C.
--Remember that these sessions were suggested by the Republicans, and not the Democratic leadership of the House. It only takes one member of Congress to call a closed-door session, however, so a proxy for the rest of the GOP helps to avoid many embarrassments. But the Democrats have agreed to do so, with reservations on the degree of secrecy from such lights as Dennis Kucinich (D-Oh.).

Some of this begins with Iran-Contra, the last time that the House was forced to convene a closed-door session to debate the criminal acts of another Republican presidential administration in another time. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was taking the world by storm, and the Cold War was being preheated in the Reaganite microwave to keep war-profiteering bellies full. The more things change, the more they stay the same, especially when Congress refuses to hold criminal administrations accountable. Precedents get set, and Americans cannot be blamed for assuming it was all by-design, because it was.

At this very moment, the House is meeting in a closed-door session to discuss the issues surrounding the conflicting versions of the Protect America Act amendment to FISA and the issue or retroactive immunity for the lawless telecommunications companies who aided in widespread and illegal wiretapping. Tonight, they're all looking at declassified records regarding the warrantless NSA surveillance program initiated by the Bush administration in 2002. But what's it all really about? One could easily assume that members of the House don't want us all to know.

After the events of September 11th, 2001, the White House was handed extraordinary powers by Congress and a panic-stricken American public, yet the surveillance program itself was kept a secret until its disclosure by the New York Times in December of 2005. The Times had been sitting on it for over one year, at-the-behest of the Bush administration which had urged the publication to bury the story, or "blood would be on their hands." Again-and-again, the White House and the GOP have resorted to the use of fear in their political strategy, even outside of public scrutiny--which is what we're seeing tonight.
President Bush vowed to veto the House Democrats' version of the terrorist surveillance bill, saying it would undermine the nation's security. House leaders said they would vote on the bill Friday, just before taking a two-week recess. The bill would then have to be approved by the Senate. Bush opposes it in part because it doesn't provide full, retroactive legal protection to telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on their customers without court permission after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. ("House to Close Its Door for Spying Bill," AP, 03.13.2008)
Go ahead and veto it, we all know that the House Democrats scored incredible political capital by refusing to reconcile their version of FISA amendments with the Senate's version (PAA). And that's correct kids, the last time a closed-door session happened was in 1983 when the Reagan administration was caught violating the Boland amendment, passed by Congress on December 8, 1982, which made it illegal for the White House to provide covert and overt military aid and training to the counterrevolutionary "Contras" in Nicaragua. The public and the legislative branch became aware of Reagan's backing of the illegal war by the press of that time when it was found that the CIA had mined Nicaraguan harbors.

The legislative branch cut all funds and barred any further funding by the executive branch to the extralegal contras--hence the need to illegally sell military-parts and arms to Iran, and the need for international money-laundering (players of the Randy Cunningham scandal such as Mitchell Wade--and possibly even Kyle D. Foggo--were involved in Iran-Contra. It's possible that another one was one Thomas Kontogiannis, alleged to be a CIA money-launderer). There was possibly even involvement in drug-trafficking (cocaine). Congress at that time had already been aware of this activity in 1982, hence the need for passage of the Boland amendment back in the "good-old-days" when there were still a few checks and balances being practiced...well, at least the occasional noble act by the Democrats. It wasn't enough, and the Reagan administration just kept breaking-the-law. None of this escaped Congress at the time.

In short, the Boland amendment made any secret or overt aggression
supported by the Reagan administration in Nicaragua against the populist Sandanistas illegal under American law, a crime. But Congress did as much as it could to avoid doing much except covering its ass. By 1988 it was essentially over, and the Congress of that time gave-in by not impeaching Ronald Reagan. While the independent counsel's investigations went into the 1990s, pardons by the administration of outgoing President George Herbert Walker Bush gutted an already feeble inquiry. Most of the expediters of this not-so-secret war were given a light slap on the wrist, as was presidents Reagan and Bush I. Tonight's closed-door session is simply another case of keeping the public outside of policymaking, and in-the-dark about our legal rights and our history. We have a right to know.

Congress knew about similar activities like Iran-Contra as early as 1982, but hid it from the public and dragged-their-feet with the investigations. As with the excesses of Watergate and Reagan, they're once again trying to save the storied office of president, rather than truly reforming it. It's either a mistake in their thinking, or many of them are complicit and share the same policy-goals of the Bush administration--inaction makes this so by-default. It makes them all complicit unless they stood-up like Dennis Kucinich has, like Patrick Leahy has, and as Russ Feingold has. The rest are de facto criminals, and in many cases de jure.

The Republicans led the charge on this count with Iran-Contra, but they couldn't have done it without the Democrats with their fundamental inaction and apathy. When it came time to hit the president with the law, the majority of incumbents at that time stood-down and let them get-away with violating the law and the Constitution. A dangerous precedent was allowed to stand, just as it will for so many crimes of the Bush administration in our current era. It took exactly four-years from the passage of the Boland amendment for the appointment of Lawrence E. Walsh as the independent counsel by then-Attorney General Edwin Meese III, in an eerie echo of the irregularities in the Bush Justice Department. What's old is new again.

Without the guarantees of the Constitution of the United States, Americans are no-longer Americans anymore. Again-and-again, the GOP endangered the security and liberties of the American public in order to grab as much power in-the-wake of 9/11 as they humanly could. In so many instances, they have cried "partisan politics" when they are in-fact the worst offenders in this area of political misbehavior. But a quick peek at the hows-and-whys of closed-door sessions is in order:
“Secret” or “closed door” sessions of the House of Representatives and Senate are
held periodically to discuss business, including impeachment deliberations, deemed to
require confidentiality and secrecy. Authority for the two chambers to hold these
sessions is implied by Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution.

Both the House and the Senate have supplemented this clause through rules and precedents. Although secret sessions were common in Congress’s early years, they were less frequent through the 20th century. National security is the principal reason for such sessions in recent years. Members and staff who attend these meetings are prohibited from divulging information. Violations are punishable by each chamber’s disciplinary rules. Members may be expelled and staff dismissed for violations of the rules of secrecy. Transcripts from secret sessions are not published unless the relevant chamber votes to release them during the session or at a later time. The portions released then may be printed in the Congressional Record. ("CRS Report for Congress, Secret Sessions of Congress: A Brief Historical Overview [.pdf], 11.03.2005)
One could argue that current Republican incumbents (for now) are playing with all of our rights in-order to minimize the damage of a rogue and criminal presidential administration to their party--this assertion is patently wrong if they are doing so. Congressional Republicans have stood nearly to-the-man (GOP women are men too, a SCUM auxiliary) behind the Bush administration on every point, every questionable move, and every unconstitutional measure and bill.

There has been very little deviation from this behavior--having its own echoes on the Democratic side of the aisle--even with a minority of them getting cold-feet after the 2006 midterm washout. With the Democratic gains in credibility from not allowing a rush in the reconciliation of the FISA amendments, it's just possible that they're beginning to understand what it takes to have the public behind them: integrity, and more than just lip-service when it comes to upholding the Constitution.

The 2005 CRS Report on Closed-Door Sessions:

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) on Iran-Contra:

"House to Close Its Doors for Spying Bill," AP, 03.13.2008: