Senate debate begins; Dodd set to filibuster telecom immunity

It's gut-check time in the Senate over the unconscionable movement to grant immunity to those carriers who conspired with the Bush Administration to trash our privacy rights and the Constitution in the name of fighting terrorism.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., has already passed the test.

Now we'll see if his fellow Democrats running for president have his backbone and his back, or whether they will put their personal political ambitions ahead of the critical need to uphold the principles of law and accountability.

From Talking Points Memo:

The question now is, What will other Senators who said they'd support Dodd's filibuster do today? Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden have all pledged to support it. They can do so under Senate rules by asking questions during Dodd's filibuster, giving him a chance to rest or to take a drink of water. Will they?

I'm guessing they won't be bothered, but perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised.

In the meantime, you can watch online at C-SPAN here, where at the moment Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is speaking on the bill Dodd intends to filibuster.

(Dodd's at the podium now ... and he's speaking with an anger not normally heard on the Senate floor.)

This excerpt is from Dodd's speech today (no link).

Mr. President:

I rise to urge my colleagues to vote against cloture on S. 2248, the FISA Amendments Act of 2007.

Opposing cloture is essential, because there is no unanimous consent agreement in place providing for the immediate adoption of the Judiciary Committee substitute amendment.

As you know, Mr. President, the Judiciary substitute amendment, among other things, strikes Title II of the Intelligence Committee bill—the title which seeks to provide retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies who are alleged to have violated their customers' privacy rights by turning over information to the government without warrants.

I am fully aware that the Majority Leader has various parliamentary options at his disposal to move this legislation forward. It is his right to attempt to invoke cloture.

But I regret that decision, and I hope that my colleagues will join me in stopping this legislation.

Mr. President, why do I feel so strongly about this matter?

For the last six years, our largest telecommunications companies have been spying on their own American customers.

Secretly and without a warrant, they delivered to the federal government the private, domestic communications records of millions of Americans—records this administration has compiled into a database of enormous scale and scope.

That decision betrayed millions of customers' trust. It was unwarranted—literally.

But was it illegal?

That, Mr. President, I don't know. And if this bill passes in its current form, we will never know. The president's favored corporations will be immune.

Their arguments will never be heard in a court of law. The details of their actions will stay hidden. The truth behind this unprecedented domestic spying will never see light. And the book on our government's actions will be closed, and sealed, and locked, and handed over to the safe-keeping of those few whom George Bush trusts to keep a secret.

The blog Firedoglake has a list of senators who have pledged to support Dodd and is urging constituents to contact them to make sure they follow through.

And this site has a list of other ways in which you can help.

The ACLU weighs in … on the right side, of course.

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