Immunity for Telecoms May Set Bad Precedent, Legal Scholars Say
Retroactive Protection Could Create Problems in the Future
By Dan Eggen -- Washington Post Staff Writer
When previous Republican administrations were accused of illegality in the FBI and CIA spying abuses of the 1970s or the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, Democrats in Congress launched investigations or pushed for legislative reforms.
But last week, faced with admissions by several telecommunication companies that they assisted the Bush administration in warrantless spying on Americans, leaders of the Senate intelligence committee took a much different tack -- proposing legislation that would grant those companies retroactive immunity from prosecution or lawsuits.
The proposal marks the second time in recent years that Congress has moved toward providing legal immunity for past actions that may have been illegal. The Military Commissions Act, passed by a GOP-led Congress in September 2006, provided retroactive immunity for CIA interrogators who could have been accused of war crimes for mistreating detainees.
Retired Rear Adm. John Hutson, dean and president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H., said he is concerned about the precedent that a new immunity provision might set.
"The unfortunate reality is that once you've done it, once you immunize interrogators or phone companies, then it's easy to do it again in another context," Hutson said. "It seems to me that as a general rule, retroactive immunity is not a good thing. . . . It's essentially letting Congress handle something that should be handled by the judiciary."
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Once again our invertebrate Congress does its thing.
Although both it and the court system have been deeply wounded by this administration, is that sufficient reason to simply roll over and play dead?