Remarks by US Senator Robert C. Byrd as delivered on the Senate floor.
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 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, and the soul and promise of America stand as a beacon of freedom and a protector of liberty which lights and energizes 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.
Yes, we hear high-flown language from this White House about bringing democracy to lands 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 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’ – a policy where the US taxpayers are funding secret prisons in foreign lands. What a word – rendition. It sounds so vague, almost harmless. But the practice of “rendition” is abhorrent. The Administration’s practice of ‘rendition’ is an affront to the principles of freedom – the very opposite of principles we claim we are trying to transplant to Iraq and 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. 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 this the America that our Founders conceived? Is this the America of which millions dream dreams? Is this 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 we sign. To fail to do so is to lose the very humanity, the morality, that makes America the hope for individual liberty around the world. The disgusting, degrading, and damaging practice of rendition should cease immediately.
“It’s not about who they are. It’s about who we are.” Those are the words of my colleague, Senator John McCain. Senator McCain is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He is a former prisoner of war, 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, and now comes this similarly alarming effort to reauthorize the Patriot Act retaining provisions which devastate many of our own citizens’ civil liberties here at home. 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 to trash the Constitution. To seize private library records, to search private property without the knowledge of the owner, to spy on ordinary citizens accused of no crime in a manner which is a sick perversion of our system of justice must not be allowed. Paranoia must not be allowed to chip away at our civil liberties. The United States of America must not adopt the thuggish tactics of our enemies. We must not trash the Fourth Amendment because the United States Senate is being stampeded at the end of a congressional session.
Government fishing expeditions with search warrants written by FBI agents is not what the Framers had in mind. Spying on ordinary unsuspecting citizens without their knowledge 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 we heard reports that the military has spied on Americans simply because they exercised their right to peaceably assemble and to speak their minds. Today we hear that the military is tapping phone lines in our own country without the consent of a judge. Labeling civil disobedience and political dissent as “domestic terrorism” is not what the Framers had in mind.
Our nation is the most powerful nation in the world because we were founded on a principle of liberty. Benjamin Franklin said that “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 have suffered at the hands of an over zealous government, established a system of checks and balances, ensuring that there is a separation of powers within government, so that no one body may run amok with its agenda. These checks are what safeguard freedom, and the American people are looking to us now to restore and protect that freedom.
So many have died protecting those freedoms. We owe it to those brave men and women to deliberate meaningfully, and to ultimately protect those freedoms 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 four years. The message of this vote is not just about the Patriot Act: it is a message that the Senate can stand up against an over-reaching executive that has sacrificed our liberties and stained our standing in the world.
The Patriot Act 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 God for checks and balances. Thank God for the United States Senate.