White House Civil Liberties Oversight Board Vacant As Bush Pushes For More Surveillance Powers

bushhands1.jpgIn 2004, the 9/11 Commission recommended the establishment of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board “to ensure that concerns with respect to privacy and civil liberties are appropriately considered” by the President “in the implementation of all laws, regulations, and executive branch policies” related to national security. The board was also charged with determining “whether guidelines designed to appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties are being followed.”

But the panel has been shrouded in controversy since its implementation, beginning with the fact that “the board was not sworn in until March 2006, due to inaction on the part of the White House and Congress.”

Now, the board is officially vacant. The terms of the original members expired on Jan. 30, 2008, but “no nominations have been sent to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which must approve appointees for the five vacancies“:

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. […]

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.

Though the board “has no real powers of investigation,” the White House has sought to undermine its oversight capabilities throughout its existence. In May 2007, Lanny Davis — the sole Democrat on the board — resigned in protest after the Bush administration “made more than 200 revisions” to the panel’s first report to Congress.

At least one of those revisions was meant to give the White House political cover during the U.S. attorney scandal:

Chairman Carol E. Dinkins told board members March 29 that the White House counsel’s office had asked to delete the passage, fearing the revelation might inflame the ongoing political controversy over the administration’s dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys, according to documents and interviews with board members.

Before joining the board, Dinkins “served as a campaign treasurer for President Bush and was a partner at the same law firm as former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.”

As Bush pushes for more surveillance powers, the White House appears content to not have to deal with the accountability and oversight that a civil liberties board would provide.