"It's not a priority for the administration." We kinda knew that already.
Civil-liberties board struggles into existence
Aug 4, 12:34 PM (ET)
By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A civil-liberties board ordered by the U.S. Congress last year has never met to discuss its job of protecting rights in the fight against terrorism, and critics say it is a toothless, underfunded shell with inadequate support from President Bush.
Lawmakers including some Republicans, civil-rights advocates, a member of the Sept. 11 Commission and a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have expressed concerns.
Lanny Davis, the only prominent liberal among the five people Bush nominated after a six-month delay, said he had not received a call from anyone related to the board since it was formally announced in June. Davis said he could not comment on specifics because the members had not yet met.
All four other panel members declined to comment.
The inactivity comes at a time when Congress is nearing reauthorization of several provisions of the Patriot Act, a controversial law that gave the government new powers to go after suspected terrorists.
Asked why it was taking so long to set the board up, Connecticut Republican Rep. Christopher Shays charged, "It's not a priority for the administration."
The intelligence reform law of December 2004 called for the oversight board in response to a recommendation from the Sept. 11 Commission, which feared increased governmental powers needed to fight terrorism could erode civil liberties.
Top White House officials have said the board would address those concerns, and get the resources needed to do the job.
But almost eight months after its inception, the critics say the panel still only exists on paper, and lacks the money, power and presidential backing to ensure the entire government respects Americans' rights.
The Bush-appointed panel "is a very watered-down board without the kinds of powers which I believe are necessary to provide credibility and authority, such as independent subpoena power ... and a bipartisan process in selection," said Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Sept. 11 commissioner.
"We don't think the board serves as a credible watchdog," said Tim Edgar, national security policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.
One frequent complaint concerns the board's budget. Bush requested $750,000, which Congress doubled to $1.5 million.
The Department of Homeland Security's privacy office, with a similar mission limited to that department, alone has a roughly $13 million budget, said Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.
"I don't think you can do it for a million and a half," Shays said.
Critics, including Thompson, also ask why it took Bush half a year to nominate the five board members when it acted much faster to implement other, more complex parts of the 2004 law. The U.S. Senate must still confirm the chairman and vice chairman after it returns from its summer recess.
Shays, New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney and other lawmakers have proposed an amendment granting the panel greater independence and powers, including subpoena authority.
Right now, Maloney said, "It does not have teeth. It does not have enforcement. It does not have strength behind it."
Asked for comment, the White House sent a copy of a June letter to Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman that said it would ensure the board had the resources to fulfill its mission and would re-examine the issue once the panel was up and running.
The two senators had written to the White House expressing concerns about the board's budget, as well as delays in setting it up and implementing other parts of the 2004 law.
"As we work to make America safer, it is equally important that we are careful to preserve the very liberties that we seek to protect," Collins told Reuters. "The board is critical in this regard."
Mary Fetchet, whose son died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, criticized the slow pace, "I am really shocked that in many instances in Washington I feel that there's this attempt to go back to the status quo, while I feel there should be a sense of urgency."
Vote for the Patriot Act! It's necessary to protect us, and most of the most dangerous stuff will expire anyway.
Vote to rmake the dangerous parts of the Patriot Act permanent! We need them to keep us safe. Trust us on that. But because you're concerned, we'll be sure to appoint a special Civil Liberties Protection watchdog group.
Nah, we decided we didn't *really* need that group. Not nearly as much as we needed to make the Patriot Act permanent, anyway.
Oh, Tal. You don't really think that board existed as anything other than the thinnest conceivable political veneer for Democrats to support the renewal of the Patriot Act, do you?
It's serious now, people. The Democrats are supporting en masse the most egregious violations of 4th amendment rights. It's time to stop pretending that there is a pro-liberty alternative amongst the two major parties. You will have to decide whether civil liberties are important enough to you to support a radical change (be it the Greens or the Libertarians).
If you can't even be bothered to do something as risk-free as VOTE for a pro-liberty candidate, you may have to ask yourself why you deserve the civil liberties which the two parties in power will eventually and inevitably deny you.
EDIT: Wisconsin voters are granted a dispensation for voting for Russ Feingold, who believes in political liberty if not the economic variety.
quote:Originally posted by CHiPsJr Oh, Tal. You don't really think that board existed as anything other than the thinnest conceivable political veneer for Democrats to support the renewal of the Patriot Act, do you?
I am an optimist. Well, I was, anyway.
quote:You will have to decide whether civil liberties are important enough to you to support a radical change (be it the Greens or the Libertarians).
It's almost worth it to hear you--CHiPsJr--suggest that a person would be better off voting for Greens than Democrats. I haven't been this happy since Mom admitted that she would be unable to vote Republican in an election.