Remember back when President Bush first starting asking Congress to pass his various so-called anti-terrorism programs and Congress balked because of the privacy and civil liberties issues that would be impacted? Remember when Bush said, “Not a problem! We’ll set up a Privacy and Civil Liberty Oversight Board to make sure we’re not stepping on anyone’s rights? Remember when it turned out that the board itself wasn’t really living up to its intended purpose so the 9/11 Commission recommended some changes, which Congress implemented, that made the board more independent, bipartisan, and accountable to the public?
Remember all that?
Well the Bush Administration can’t have been too happy with the changes because they’ve made sure there’s no one on it:
The Bush administration has failed to nominate any candidates to a newly empowered privacy and civil-liberties commission. This leaves the board without any members, even as Congress prepares to give the Bush administration extraordinary powers to wiretap without warrants inside the United States.
The failure rankles Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), respectively chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee.
“I urge the president to move swiftly to nominate members to the new board to preserve the public’s faith in our promise to protect their privacy and civil liberties as we work to protect the country against terrorism,” Lieberman said in a statement.
“The White House’s failure to move forward with appointing the new board is unacceptable, and I call on the administration to do so as quickly as possible to prevent a gap in this vital mission,” Collins said in a statement.
Terms for the board’s original members expired on Jan. 30, but no nominations have been sent to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which must approve appointees for the five vacancies.
Anyone who’s being totally honest with themselves knew this board was a joke the day it was announced and it should come as no surprise that once Congress gave it some teeth and made it independent of the White House that President Bush would suddenly forget to nominate anyone to actually man the post. Not that it matters, even with the revisions Congress made the board is largely powerless to do anything about protecting your civil liberties.
Civil-liberties advocates like Lisa Graves, deputy director of the Center for National Security Studies, considered the board to be apologists for the government’s anti-terrorism policies, rather than independent civil-liberties watchdogs.
“This board failed miserably in its mission of helping to protect Americans’ privacy and instead acted mainly to help the White House whitewash programs like warrantless NSA wiretapping that violate Americans’ civil liberties,” Graves said. “Now that Congress has changed the board’s rules to make it a little more independent, the White House appears to have no interest in appointing anyone to it.”
But even the newly configured board doesn’t have enough power and what is really needed is a totally independent body with the ability to subpoena documents, according to Timothy Sparapani, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We want them to be more than just the privacy version of Congressional Research Service,” Sparapani said. “They need to be able to slap hands and force people to consider privacy in the initial creation of programs, and then whack people into line when privacy violations occur.”
What I find amazing, however, is the fact that the Bush Administration is still trying to expand the President’s power to spy on Americans despite the very good possibility that the next President will be a Democrat. Either they’re delusional in thinking there’s no way in hell a Republican won’t win the election or they’re convinced that a Democrat would never abuse the power in the manner which they have.