We Don't Need No Stinking Civil Liberties Board

We Don't Need No Stinking Civil Liberties Board September 12, 2011

In 2004 a law was passed by Congress to establish a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to act as a watchdog over executive actions, ostensibly to ensure that those actions are in line with constitutional protections. But it was an agency within the White House and thus was a watchdog with neither a bark nor a bite. After one of the members of the board resigned in 2007 because of interference from White House officials, Congress made the board independent and required Senate approval of it members.

There’s just one small problem: The board doesn’t have any members. Bush never appointed anyone to the newly independent board. Obama has appointed two people and neither has been confirmed.

As 9/11 Commission co-chairmen Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton noted last week, the board has been “dormant” since 2008 because neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama has managed to appoint its five members. This failure is vivid testimony to the continuing disregard for civil liberties and the rule of law under a president who promised to revive respect for both…

President Obama waited until last December, halfway through his term, to nominate anyone for the board. Neither of his two picks has been confirmed yet; even if both were, the board would still be one member shy of a quorum.

“If we were issuing grades,” Kean and Hamilton say, “the implementation of this recommendation would receive a failing mark. A robust and visible Board can help reassure Americans that these [anti-terrorism] programs are designed and executed with the preservation of our core values in mind. Board review can also give national security officials an extra degree of assurance that their efforts will not be perceived later as violating civil liberties.”

This talk of reassurance is a bit alarming, since a properly functioning Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board might conclude, from time to time, that the government’s efforts to fight terrorism are not compatible with “our core values.” The board should be highlighting violations of civil liberties, not preventing the public from noticing them.

Still, it would be nice to have an agency that focuses on the tradeoff between freedom and security—or, more accurately, the tradeoff between one kind of security (against terrorism) and another (against tyranny). If it ever comes into being, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board will have plenty to discuss.

Which tells you how seriously the executive and legislative branches take complying with the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, the courts have been only a tiny bit better.

"Although solar energy and solar panels have long been considered unknown technology for anyone. Greetings ..."

The Practical Path to Clean Energy
"Jose Antonio writes, "While Ed was busy hating religion, God and values . . ."You ..."

Saying Goodbye for the Last Time
"Hi everyone,While Ed was busy hating religion, God and values, I was staying in shape, ..."

Saying Goodbye for the Last Time
"(2 Samuel 21) Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, ..."

Gallups: Satan Has Convinced Christians They ..."

Browse Our Archives