11/13/2006 07:24 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

New Congress: Americanism Means No Torture, Eavesdropping With Warrants, Honest Elections, Habeas Corpus

The biggest single question for the Democratic
Leaders in the Democratic Congress will be to
decide which issues require principled stands
that offer bipartisanship, but include a strong
willingness to fight if necessary.

When historians look back on the years 2001
to 2006, they will be astonished at how easily
fundamental American traditions were violated
and how casually fundamental American rights
were not only taken away, but surrendered.

This note identifies four specific matters that
Democrats should treat as matters of high
honor and first principle. All are appropriate
for bipartisan agreement; all will meet major
resistance from the extreme right wing of
the Republican Party; all involve matters that
violate cardinal rules of Americanism.

Democrats should not agree to partial torture,
partial violations of the Constitution, partially
honest elections, or partial right of habeas
corpus or right to counsel. These involve
practices and policies that are so radical,
so extreme, so violative of American tradition,
that they simply must be stopped.

If the President and his party agree, great.

If not, Democrats should fight in Congress,
take the issue to the American people, and
make a stand. There is risk in this; but in
the new environment in Washington it is a
fight worth waging and a fight worth winning.

From the days of George Washington ordering
the Continental Army to commit no acts of
torture, to the historic bipartisan support for
the Geneva Convention, America has never
even engaged this kind of debate.

Historically, we have always taken for granted the rule of law in the
conduct of war.

We have always honored the universal support of our commanders and
troops for the Geneva
Convention that was created to protect them.

We have always followed the universal views
of the great faiths of the world who are united
in opposition to torture, except for the spiritual
advisors to the terrorists.

We have always understood that America's
strength in the world is grounded on our moral
leadership and the magnetic power of the
American idea. Our country must return to
the fold of American tradition and decent
opinion throughout the world and torture
must end.

As George Washington opposed torture, James
Madison and the Founding Fathers warned that
the greatest threat to our liberties is that we
will be driven by fear of foreign enemies, to giving away our freedoms
at home.

I was working in the United States Senate on
intelligence matters for Senator Lloyd Bentsen
when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
was first enacted.

When President Bush claims preemptive executive power and suggests that
time limits justify warrantless eavesdropping, he forgets that when FISA
was first enacted we were concerned with thermonuclear first strikes
from the Soviet Union, which would have destoyed our cities, with only
minutes of notice.

There are time constraints in the 9-11 age,
as there were in the Cold War age, but they
can be fully addressed through professional
bipartisan amendments to the FISA law that
provide sufficient executive power, while
protecting fundamental constitutional freedom.

Many prominent conservatives, liberals, civil
libertarians and libertarian conservatives have
opposed the extreme practice of warrantless
searches and many in Congress have offered
constructive solutions. We are a Nation of two
parties and three branches of government and
a Democratic Congress should offer bipartisan
solutions, but if necessary take the issue to the
country to uphold the rule of law.

If there is one principle essential to American
Democracy it is the right to vote in honest and
fair elections. This has been a time honored
right and tradition since the days of Thomas
Jefferson, through the campaign for women's
suffrage and the heroic stands taken during
Freedom Summer by those who gave their
lives, to protect the right to vote.

The issue is not conspracy, the issue is sound
practice that protects the franchise, ending
clear areas of abuse and creating major new
protections. A Democratic Congress should
conduct comprehensive and aggresive new
hearings to consider every aspect of this
problem, every threat to the franchise, and
pass new legislation to defend the franchise
from fraud and corruption.

It is not conspracy theory to state: no private
company, let alone a company subject to
foreign influence, should ever be allowed
to demand secret standards for counting votes.
Paper ballots should be universally available.
Voting ID laws should be fair and should never
be discriminatory. Practices that we have seen
in this last campaign involving dishonest phone
calls, leaflets and other tactices should follow
the law or be treated as crimes.

Finally for now, habeas corpus and the right
to counsel are fundamental rights that protect
our other rights. They have been taken away
far too aggressively, surrendered far too
casually, and should be restored based on
common sense, the rule of law, and American

These are matters that involve first principles
of American Democracy. These are matters
where the Bush Administration and Republican
Congress have taken America far from our
mainstream, our history and our tradition.

All of these issues can be solved by reasonable
cooperation between both parties, but at the
same time, they are so fundamental that we
should be willing to take our case to the country
and win the battle of ideas, if that is the only

Torture must end; not only some torture.

The Constitution must be honored; not only
part of our Constitution, part of the time.

Elections must be honest; not only some of
our elections, some of the time.

Habeas corpus and right to counsel must be
preserved, not only when it is easy, but when
it is hard, because that is why these rights
were created in the first place.

If possible, through bipartisanship.

If necessary, there are some issues a great
party and great country must stand for, which
must rise above the short term politics and
convenience of the moment, because they
are so timelessly American.