Christine Stuart file photo
US Senator Chris Dodd (Christine Stuart file photo)

Floor Statement of Senator Christopher J. Dodd on the Amendment to Strike Retroactive Immunity from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: As Prepared For Delivery

Mr. President, I rise to offer an amendment to strike Title II, which would provide retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies

Mr. President, for many Americans, this issue may seem very difficult to follow – it may seem like just another squabble over corporate lawsuits.

But in reality, it is so much more than that.  This is about choosing between the rule of law and the rule of men.

For more than seven years, President Bush has demonstrated time and time again that he neither respects the role of the Congress, nor does he respect the rule of law. 

Today, we are considering legislation which will grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies who are alleged to have handed over to this Administration the personal information of every American—everyone phone call, every email, every fax and every text message.  And all without a warrant.

Some may argue that in fact the companies received documentation from the Administration stating that the President authorized the wiretapping program and that therefore it was legal.

These advocates will argue that the mere existence of documentation justifies retroactive immunity—that because a document was received, companies should be retroactively exonerated of all wrong-doing.

But, as the Intelligence Committee has already made clear, we already KNOW that the companies received some form of documentation, with some sort of legal determination. 

But that logic is deeply flawed Mr. President.

Because the question is not whether companies received a “document” from the White House. The question is, were there actions legal?  It’s a rather straightforward and surprisingly uncomplicated question.  Did the companies break the law?

Either the companies complied with the law as it was at the time, or they didn’t. 

Either the companies and the President acted outside of the rule of law, or they followed it. 

Either the underlying program was legal or it wasn’t.

If we pass retroactive immunity, none of these questions will ever be answered.  Because of this so-called “compromise,” the judge’s hands will be tied, and the outcome of these cases will be predetermined.  Retroactive immunity will be granted.

So Mr. President, this is about finding out what actually happened between these companies and the Administration.

It is about holding this Administration to account for violating the rule of law and our Constitution.  It is about reminding this Administration that, “Where law ends, tyranny begins.”

And those aren’t my words, Mr. President – those words were spoken by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Mr. President, it is time to say “no more.”

No more trampling our Constitution.

No more excusing those who violate the rule of law.

No more.

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 should not do in a time where our country is at risk, is abandon them.  That is what is at stake here today.  Allowing retroactive immunity to go forward is by its very nature an abandonment of these principles. 

Like generations of American leaders before us, we too are confronted with a choice.

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, whatever our political party—Republican, Democrat—we were all elected to ensure that this nation adheres to the rule of law.  That is our must fundamental obligation – not as partisans but as patriots serving their country. 

The rule of law is not the provenance of any one political party – but of every American who has been safer because of it. 

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 our 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 both tragic and stunning.

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. 

As Dwight D. Eisenhower who served our country both as President and as leader of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War Two, said:

“The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law.”

That is why I believe history will judge this President harshly for his disregard for our most cherished principles.

And if we do not change course and stand up for our Constitution, for what is best in America, for what we know is right and just, then history will most certainly decide that that it was those of us in this body who bare equal responsibility for the President’s decisions—for it was us who looked the other way, time and time again.

Mr. President, this is the moment.  At long last, let us rise to it. 

Support this amendment. 

Stop retroactive immunity. 

Stand up for the rule of law.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.