[This part II of a post in which I insult both political parties and try my best to feel sympathy for a lawyer (presumably) who has labored in secret to perpetuate a colossal injustice. How do I get myself into these things?]
OK fine, assuming I’ve made the point that shit has already hit the fan, who cares? For part two of my little rambling note I’m going to out myself as having sympathy for one of our oppressors. Yep; I’ve found in my heart a bit of sympathy for one of our nameless overlords. Who knew I had it in me?
I’m referring here to the unnamed person who, in secret, was ordered to justify spying on all Americans. Imagine that job! I’ve shoveled shit. I’ve dug ditches. I’ve worked in brutal cold, blistering heat, dangerous environments, long hours, and I’ve even had to fly to Newark… but no job has ever asked me to shave off a piece of my soul and burn it on my bosses desk.
Someone, presumably a well educated individual, had to form a logical construct about why it’s legal to spy on all Americans. This couldn’t be done by the unaware. The person (or team) who did it knew what he or she was doing. Now they have to carry that burden. Dirt washes off but that won’t fade.
Remember, I’m not talking about the amoral or deluded who did the spying. I’m talking about the poor sap who had to justify it.
Here’s the article that got me thinking about what may be the shittiest job on earth. It was written by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and discusses a memo that “justifies” wiretapping every American all the time whenever the NSA feels like it.
“On Aug. 9, the Obama administration released a previously secret legal interpretation of the Patriot Act that it used to justify the bulk collection of every American’s phone records. The strained reasoning in the 22-page memo won’t survive long in public light…”
Imagine that. Someone had to write a fig leaf to justify folks who intended to do whatever the hell they wanted. I can’t imagine what that sort of internal dialogue would do to me. It had to hurt.
It makes sense that the Patriot Act was used for this charade. The Patriot Act was an affront to civil liberties when it was passed and remains one to this day. As surely as night follows day, it was misused as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Anyone who’s read history would have seen abuses coming. Why create a hammer if you’re not looking for a nail?
I find it instructive that both parties are at fault. When the party of R was in power they passed the bad idea and promised they would never misuse it. Oh really? The party of D was not in power so they opposed it (ineffectively). Then, just about the millisecond the party of D was in charge they decided the Patriot Act was totally awesome. Oh really? Meanwhile the party of R suddenly decided the monster they’d created was totally not cool anymore. Too late suckers! There is a beautiful (and morally bankrupt) symmetry in a world where both parties embraced spying but only if they got to be the spies. Neither party did the right thing when they were in power. Both parties changed their tune when they weren’t holding the reins.
“…the Patriot Act authorizes the collection of certain business records — in this case, phone records — when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the records are relevant to an authorized investigation into international terrorism. The key legal term is ‘relevance.'”
Whomever was forced to write the secret memo to justify spying on all Americans played around with legalese and definitions trying to make a case. Even then they were hampered by the fact that in the end, they were speaking English. You cannot do whatever you want by redefining words:
“The administration’s memo begins by acknowledging that its interpretation of the statute is at odds with the plain meaning of ‘relevance.’ It argues there is a ‘particularized legal meaning’ of relevance, but it ultimately concedes that it fails to meet this standard as well.”
Nor was this accidental drift. They knew precisely how far they were going:
“….no public court has ever upheld document collection that is remotely close to the dragnet at issue. The administration concedes as much: ‘To be sure, the cases that have been decided in these contexts do not involve collection of data on the scale at issue in the telephony metadata collection program, and the purpose for which information was sought in these cases was not as expansive in scope as a nationwide intelligence collection effort designed to identify terrorist threats.'”
Having nowhere else to go it concludes that Congress knew so it was OK.
“…information concerning the use of Section 215 to collect telephony metadata in bulk was made available to all members of Congress, and Congress reauthorized Section 215 without change after this information was provided.”
Of course nobody in Congress seems to know what they’re talking about. Maybe it was one of those “pass it to know what’s in it” things?
“As I have said numerous times, I did not know the administration was using the Patriot Act for bulk collection, and neither did a majority of my colleagues.”
The article winds up with a Conrgessman shooting down 22 pages of misdirection with 16 words of common sense:
“Regardless, the suggestion that the administration can violate the law because Congress failed to object is outrageous.”
Then we see our Congressman end by claiming to have a spine:
“But let them be on notice: I am objecting right now.”
That’s all well and good. I’m glad that we’ve got a Congressman who’s calling bullshit. Good luck sir!
Also I really do feel empathy for whatever is left of the person who wrote the original 22 pages of justification. Jobs that force you to chose between a clean soul and a paycheck erode you inch by inch until there’s nothing left. I’d like to think I’d do the right thing. We all would like to think that highly of ourselves. We’d like to think we’d tell the boss to suck it and walk out the front door unemployed and guilt free. We’d stand straight and tell the president himself “no”. Then they’d roll the credits on our heroic awesomeness.
However, life isn’t like that and from experience I’ve seen great men slowly collapse. As for me, the few times I’ve been put in positions where the boss wanted “wrong” I have indeed refused to go there but it wasn’t easy and nobody congratulated me. I suspect it gets harder the more compromises you made on the way to where you are. I’m guessing it was just another step in the diminishment of someone who’s already given up. I doubt I’ll ever be put in that position because I have made a point out of avoiding it. None of us truly knows what we’d do when a very expensive and highly lucrative career was on the line and the boss was one of the most powerful men on the planet. Standing up to your boss when you were a 19 year old delivery boy ‘aint the same thing as doing it when you’re 50.
Back to our bravely squawking Congressman. Thanks and good luck but it’s not going to get better soon. Call me when you’ve made a difference but don’t expect a parade for feeling angry that shit went down on your watch. Nobody in Washington D.C. of either party is even remotely likely to do any good toward civil liberties. This mess didn’t happen by accident. They fostered the mindset that led to it (both in the populace and in themselves). They created the conditions, they amassed the funding, they put the tools in place, and they only put on the brakes when they don’t get to control the monster they jointly made. Both parties screwed the Nation when it suited them and they’ll forget all about their rhetorical outrage soon enough.
P.S. I’ve just dropped 1,500+ words hassling both Democrats and Republicans. I already anticipate earnest Republican readers carefully explaining that their favorite party has acted much better than Obama and his posse. (Perhaps Republicans have a point. Much like it’s better to stick your finger in a light socket than have your arm chewed off by a wolverine, Bush Jr. didn’t run quite so amok as our current glorious socialist leader. Then again when Republicans had their chance to shine; they didn’t. Thus, when they get the chance again; they won’t.)
Surely Obama’s 22 page secret memo justifying “spying on all Americans” is nothing like Bush’s performance. Oh really? I recall a 50 page secret memo in 2002 that was the mirror image of a 22 page secret memo in 2013. It was filled with pretzel logic explaining that pain had to be “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death” or it wasn’t torture. I’d like to find anyone who went along with that and smash their fingers one at a time with a hammer. If I inflicted slightly less pain than organ failure they presumably would agree that it’s not torture. Which is good because I’d have to hammer a lot of fingers to to test my theory on all of the people that tried to put a good face on doing wrong. My arm would get tired.
You might think you’re being tortured without pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death”. You’d be right. You might think it’s unreasonable that every call you make is logged by the NSA. You’d be right.