Mr. President, for six years, this President has demonstrated time and time again that he doesn’t respect the role of Congress nor does he respect the rule of law.
Every six years as United States Senators we take the oath office to uphold the Constitution. Our colleagues on the House side take that oath every two years. That is important.
For six years this President has used scare tactics to prevent the Congress from reining in his abuse of authority. A case and point is the current direction this body appears to be headed as we prepare to reform and extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Many of the unprecedented rollbacks to the rule of law by this Administration have been made in the name of national security.
The Bush Administration has relentlessly focused our nation’s resources and manpower on a war of choice in Iraq. That ill conceived war has broken our military, squandered resources and emboldened our enemies.
The President’s wholesale disregard of the rule of law has compounded the damage done in Iraq and has made our nation less secure and as a direct consequence of these acts, we are less secure, more vulnerable and more isolated in the world.
Consider the scandal at Abu Ghraib – where Iraqi prisoners were subjected to inhumane and humiliating acts by U.S. personnel charged with guarding them.
Consider Guantanamo Bay. Rather than helping to protect the nation, the prisons at Guantanamo Bay have instead become the very symbol for our weakened moral standing in the world.
Consider the secret prisons run by the CIA and the practice of extraordinary rendition that allows them to evade U.S. law regarding torture.
Consider the shameful actions of our outgoing Attorney General who politicized prosecutions – who was more committed to serving the President who appointed him than the laws he had sworn to uphold.
And consider, of course, the Military Commissions Act – a law that allows evidence obtained through torture to be admitted into evidence.
It denies individuals the right to counsel.
It denies them the right to invoke the Geneva Conventions.
And it denies them the single most important and effective safeguard of liberty man has known – the right of habeas corpus, permitting prisoners to be brought before a court to determine whether their detainment is lawful.
Warrantless wiretapping, torture – the list goes on.
Each of these policies share two things in common.
First, they have weakened our ability to prosecute the global war on terrorism – if for no other reason than they have made it harder, if not impossible, to build the international support and cooperation we need to fight it.
And second, each has only been possible because Congress has not been able to stop this President’s unprecedented expansion of executive power, although some in this body have tried.
Whether or not these policies were explicitly authorized is beside the point. In every instance, Congress has been unable to hold this Administration to account for violating the rule of law and our Constitution. In each instance, Republicans in the Congress have prevented this body from telling this Administration that “a state of war is not a blank check.”
And those aren’t my words, Mr. President – those are the words of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who was nominated by Ronald Reagan.
And today, it appears that we are prepared to consider the proposed renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – a law that in whatever form it eventually takes will almost certainly permit the Bush Administration to broadly eavesdrop on American citizens.
Legislation, as currently drafted, that would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that helped this Administration violate the civil liberties of Americans and the law of this country.
Mr. President while it may be true that the proposed legislation is an improvement on existing law, it remains fundamentally flawed because it fails to protect the privacy rights of Americans or hold the Executive or the private sector accountable if they choose to ignore the law.
That is why I will not stand on the floor of the United States Senate and be silent about the direction we are headed.
It is time to say “no more.”
No more trampling our Constitution.
No more excusing those who violate the rule of law.
These are our principles.
They have been around at least since the Magna Carta.
They are enduring.
What they are not is temporary. And what we do not do in a time where our country is at risk is abandon them.
My father was Executive Trial Counsel at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals during 1945 and 1946.
What America accomplished at those historic trials wasn’t a foregone conclusion. It took courage – when Stalin and even a leader as great and noble as Winston Churchill wanted to simply execute the Nazi leaders, we didn’t back down from our belief that these men—as terrible as they were—ought to have a trial.
We did not give in to vengeance.
As then, the issue before us today is the same.
Does America stand for all that is still right with our world? Or do we retreat in fear?
Do we stand for justice that secures America? Or do we act out of vengeance that weakens us?
Mr. President, I am well aware that this issue is seen as political. I believe that Democrats were elected to strengthen the nation – elected to restore our standing in the world.
I believe we were elected to ensure that this nation adheres to the rule of law and to stop this Administration’s assault on the Constitution.
But the rule of law is not the provenance of any one political party – but of every American who has been safer because of it.
Mr. President, I know this bill hasn’t even been reported out of the Judiciary Committee yet.
But I am here today because if I have learned anything in my 26 years in this body—particularly during the last 7 years—it is that if you wait until the end to voice your concerns, you will have waited too long. That is why I have written to the Majority Leader informing him that I will object to any effort to bring this legislation to the Senate floor for consideration.
I hope that Senator Leahy is able to remove this language – he is a dear friend and I know his respect for the rule of law runs deep.
But if he cannot, I am prepared to filibuster this bill.
President Bush is right about one thing: this debate is about security. But not in the way he imagines.
He believes we have to give up certain rights to be safe.
I believe the choice between moral authority and security is a false choice.
I believe it is precisely when you stand up and protect your rights that you become stronger, not weaker.
The damage that was done to our country on 9/11 was stunning. It changed the world forever.
But when you start diminishing our rights as a people, you compound that tragedy. You cannot protect America in the long run if you fail to protect our Constitution. It is that simple.
Mr. President, history will likely judge this President harshly for his war of choice and for fighting it with a disregard for our most cherished principles.
But history is about tomorrow. We must act today to stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law.
Mr. President, this is the moment. At long last, let us rise to it.