It’s a victory, sort of, for the opponents of the Patriot Act. The Senate voted about an hour ago 52 to 47 to end debate on the matter, but this also means that the topic can be brought up again. 60 votes are required under Senate rules to end debate. What does this mean? Is it the stinking rebuke that the media reports? And is the revelation that the NSA has been eavesdropping on Americans and others without court warrants part of the reason the vote for the Patriot failed?

Allowing the NSA, which typically is barred from domestic spying, the power to monitor people without warrants goes against some of the foundations of our legal system. Have they forgotten the scandals of the 70s already? The proponents cite threats against our government as the excuse to allow these types of violations, but where does it stop? They monitor the anti-war protests. They don’t allow people to ask valid questions of the president, instead, passing off pre-screened questions and answers as an ‘open’ dialogue. Can they promise not to abuse this power? After the travesty of Abu Ghraib, I don’t think they can safely say no.

It all comes down to legalese in the end. It’s how you phrase the answers.

At an April hearing on the Patriot Act renewal, Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the F.B.I., “Can the National Security Agency, the great electronic snooper, spy on the American people?”

“Generally,” Mr. Mueller said, “I would say generally, they are not allowed to spy or to gather information on American citizens.”

The same situation seems to be happening with Senator John McCain’s anti-torture measure. Our government doesn’t want its hand tied, so they are trying to use language to get some of the knots undone. Luckily, Bush caved, though there is talk of a secret backroom deal that undermines McCain’s proposal.

And on another related matter, Turkish courts have halted the trial of author Orhan Pamuk, claiming the case needs the approval of the ministry. Is this a backwards way of stopping an embarassing trial without actually dealing with the ramifications of the law itself,as the Literary Saloon suggests? The law makes it illegal to insult the republic, parliament or any organ of state. Pamuk said in an interview earlier this year: “One million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares talk about it.” Turkey maintains that the deaths of Armenians in conflict does was not a genocidal campaign. And it’s not only Pamuk. At least 60 other authors are being charged under the same law. How far away are we from this kind of law and trial? Far away, most would say. But the past few years has seen us trekking up this slippery slope. We’re a bit closer now than we were before 9/11. It is the problem with the ‘You’re with us or against’ rhetoric. It sets up a system where if you don’t agree with legitimate reason, you’re not heard or worse. I’d hate to see the day where speaking out against the goverment is punishable by law in the US. Unfortunately, that day keeps coming closer.

3 thoughts on “Legalese

  1. jmfausti

    Not quite the victory we’d hoped. It looks like it gets at least another 6 months. I loved the idea of the sun setting on this horrid piece of legislation.


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