The Freelance Traveller (freetrav) wrote,
The Freelance Traveller

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) on the Senate Floor, December 16, 2005, In Re USA-PATRIOT

I believe in America. Let me say that again. I believe in America. I believe in the dream of the Founders and Framers of our inspiring Constitution. I believe in the spirit that drove President Abraham Lincoln to risk all to preserve the Union.

I believe in what President Kennedy challenged America to be—America, the great experiment of democracy. "Where the strong are also just and the weak can feel secure, the soul and promise of America stands as a beacon, praise God, of freedom and a protector of liberty which lights and energizes the people around the world." Today, sadly, that beacon is dimmed. This administration's America is becoming a place where the strong are arrogant and the weak are ignored. Fie on the administration.

Yes, we hear high-flung language from the White House about bringing democracy to a land where democracy has never been. We seem mesmerized with glorious rhetoric about justice and liberty, but does the rhetoric really match the reality of what our country has become?

Since the heinous attacks of September 11, I speak of the actions of our own Government, actions that have undermined the credibility of this great Nation around the world. These actions taken one at a time may seem justified, but taken as a whole they form an unsettling picture and tell a troubling story. Do we remember the abuses at Abu Ghraib? They were explained as an aberration. Do we remember the abuses at Guantanamo Bay? They were denied as an exaggeration. Now we read about this so-called policy of rendition—what a shame—a policy where the U.S. taxpayers are funding secret prisons in foreign lands. What a word, "rendition." What a word, "rendition."

Shame. It sounds so vague, almost harmless. But the practice of rendition is abhorrent.

Let me say that again. It sounds so vague, almost harmless, but the practice of rendition is abhorrent—abhorrent.

The administration's practice of rendition is an affront, an affront to the principles of freedom, the very opposite of principles we claim we are trying to transplant to Iraq and to other rogue nations.

The administration claims that rendition is a valuable weapon in the war on terror. But what is the value of having America's CIA sit as judge and jury while deciding just who might be a threat to our national security? Such determinations receive no review by a court of law—none. The CIA simply swings into action, abducts a person from some foreign country and flies them off to who knows where, with no judicial review of guilt or innocence. A person can be held in secret prisons in unnamed countries or even shipped off to yet another country to face torture at the hands of the secret police of brutal governments.

Is that what we want? Is this the America that our Founders conceived? Is this the America that Nathan Hale died for, when he said "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country"? Is this the America that he died for? Is this the America that our Founders conceived? Is this the America of which millions of people dreamed? Is this, I ask the Senate, the beacon of freedom inspiring other nations to follow?

The United States should state clearly and without question that we will not torture prisoners and that we will abide by the treaties that we signed, because to fail to do so is to lose the very humanity, the morality that makes America different, that makes America the hope for individual liberty around the world.

The disgusting, degrading, and damaging practice of rendition should cease immediately. Is this what Patrick Henry was talking about—"Give me liberty or give me death!"? It is not about who they are. "It's not about who they are. It's about who we are." Those are the words of my colleague Senator JOHN MCCAIN, bless his heart. Senator McCain is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He is a former prisoner of war. He knows what it is all about. And he is exactly right. There is no moral high ground in torture. There is no moral high ground in the inhumane treatment of prisoners. Our misguided, thuggish practice of rendition has put a major blot on American foreign policy.

Now comes this similarly alarming effort to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act, retaining provisions that devastate many of our own citizens' civil liberties here at home. What is happening? What is happening to our cherished America? Let us stop and look and listen and think. What is happening to our cherished America?

Any question raised about the wisdom of shredding constitutional protections of civil liberties with roots that trail back centuries is met with the disclaimer that the world has changed and that the 9/11 attacks are, in effect, a green light. Get that, a green light to trash this Constitution, to seize private library records. Hear that.

Suppose I want to get a book out of the library. Suppose I want to read Loves Labors Lost. The disclaimer that the world has changed and that the 9/11 attacks are in effect a green light to trash the Constitution, to seize private library records—suppose I want to read about A Tale of Two Cities. They are going to seize those library records? To search private property—how about that—without the knowledge of the owner? If you want to go in my house without my knowledge, without my wife's knowledge, to spy on ordinary citizens accused of no crime in a manner is a sick—a sick, s-i-c-k, perversion of our system of justice and it must not be allowed.

Paranoia must not be allowed to chip away at our civil liberties. Don't let it happen. The United States of America must not adopt the thuggish tactics of our enemies—no. We must not trash the fourth amendment because the Senate is being stampeded at the end of a congressional session. No.

Government fishing expeditions with search warrants written by FBI agents is not what the Framers had in mind. It is not what Benjamin Franklin had in mind. It is not what Morris had in mind. It is not what James Wilson had in mind. Spying on ordinary, unsuspecting citizens—not with that in mind. Without their knowledge? No. That is not what the Framers had in mind. Handing the Government unilateral authority to keep all evidence secret from a target so that it may never be challenged in a court of law is not what the Framers had in mind.

Yesterday, I believe it was, we heard reports that the military has spied on Americans simply because they exercised their right to peaceably assemble and to speak their minds. What disgrace. What a shame. Today we hear, yes, we hear today that the military is tapping phone lines in our own country without the consent of a judge. Can you believe that? Here in this country, where liberty is supposed to prevail.

Go and ask that Statue of Liberty. Is that what it stands for?

No. Labeling civil disobedience and political dissent as domestic terrorism is not what the Framers had in mind.

Read history. What is the matter with us? Have we gone berserk? Read history. That is not what they had in mind.

Our Nation is the most powerful nation in the world. Why? Because our Nation was founded on a principle of liberty. Benjamin Franklin said "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Our Founding Fathers, intent on addressing the abuses they had suffered at the hands of an overzealous government, established—yes, it did—established a system of checks and balances, ensuring that there is a separation of powers—there is a separation of powers. Read it in the Constitution, article I, article II, article III—a separation of powers so that no one body may run amok with its agenda. These checks are what safeguards freedom for you, Mr. President, and for me and for all others in this land. These checks are what safeguard freedom, and the American people are looking to us—yes, they are looking through those lenses there, they are looking at us, yes. The people out on the broad prairies, out on the plains, out in the valleys, out on the great shores, the frozen wastes of the North Pole, and, yes, that liberty extends everywhere. That American liberty extends everywhere. And nobody may run amok with its agenda.

These checks are what safeguard freedom, and the American people are looking to us—you, and me, Senator, you, Senator, and you, Mr. President—looking to us now to restore and protect that freedom.

So many have died protecting those freedoms. And we owe it to those brave men and women to deliberate meaningfully and to ultimately protect those freedoms that Americans cherish so deeply. The American people deserve nothing less.

Earlier today, the Senate voted to stop a bill that would have allowed the abuses of American civil liberties to continue for another 4 years. Shame. The message of this vote is not just about the PATRIOT Act but the message that the Senate can stand up, the Senate can stand against an overreaching Executive of any party, any party, any party that has sacrificed our liberties and stained our standing before the world.

The PATRIOT Act has gone too far. It has gone too far. Secret renditions should be stopped. Torture must be outlawed. Our military should not spy on our own people.

The Senate has spoken. Let us secure our country but not by destroying our liberties.

Thank Almighty God for this Constitution and the Framers who wrote it, and the Founders of our Nation who risked their lives and their fortunes and their sacred honor. Thank God for checks and balances. Thank God for the Senate, and may it always stand for the right. ....

Tags: politics
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