Security

Durbin: No Immunity For Telecoms ‘Until We Understand What The Program Has Been About’

This week, the House introduced FISA reform legislation that refused to grant immunity to telecommunications companies for their participation in potentially illegal spying activities. President Bush immediately warned that he would veto the legislation if it did not surrender on the immunity provision.

Early reports suggested that the Senate was prepared to back down on the immunity provision. FireDogLake reported that the Senate version of the FISA bill “does contain immunity/amnesty for the telecom companies.”

But this weekend on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) spoke out forcefully against granting unconditional immunity to the telecom companies for potentially illegal acts:

I’m not for blanket immunity until we understand what the program has been about. The day will come, maybe in my lifetime or later, when we’ll finally figure out what the Bush administration has been up to these years with this secret program.

I don’t want the embarrassment of history coming back saying what were they thinking of in Congress to give blanket immunity when they didn’t even know the circumstances.

“The administration says trust us,” Durbin argued. “It is hard to trust an administration which has failed to even tell Congress what the programs are about.” Watch it:

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) recently floated the possibility of filibustering the FISA legislation if it grants unconditional immunity to telecom companies. Glenn Greenwald has more.

Transcript:

HUNT: President Bush wants the legislation to protect phone companies that cooperated with domestic surveillance from lawsuits. This is after 9/11. Nancy Pelosi says the House bill will not grant such immunity. What will the Senate do on this?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you the law is clear. If these telephone companies were involved in legal, lawful conduct, they are completely immunized. If the government asked them to help in the war on terror and it was legal, no questions asked.

But now we are dealing with the possible illegal conduct by these telephone companies. The possible disclosure of identities and information about Americans who were not even suspect but might have been caught up in some sort of web. And we want to make certain before we grant immunity that we are not going too far.

The administration says trust us. You know it is hard to trust an administration which has failed to even tell Congress what the programs are about all these years.

HUNT: I get the impression you are saying no blanket immunity then.

DURBIN: I’m not for blanket immunity until we understand what the program has been about. The day will come, maybe in my lifetime or later, when we’ll finally figure out what the Bush administration has been up to these years with this secret program. I don’t want the embarrassment of history coming back saying what were they thinking of in Congress to give blanket immunity when they didn’t even know the circumstances.