President Bush’s puppet Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board held its first public meeting on Tuesday, getting an earful from civil liberty advocates and experts, including the ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson, who remarked: “Clearly, you’ve been fiddling while Rome burns.” The group, though conceived by the 9/11 Commission and created by Congress, holds little power and its members serve at the pleasure of the president.
Of the 10 such representatives who spoke on panels at the meeting, many urged the group to probe more deeply into the constitutional issues surrounding electronic surveillance, data mining and swapping, and terrorist watch list programs conducted by the government. Some didn’t mince words.
“When our government is torturing innocent people and spying on Americans without a warrant, this board should act—indeed, should have acted long ago,” Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington, D.C., office, told the panel in her testimony.
Training her gaze on the five presidentially appointed board members, she added: “Clearly, you’ve been fiddling while Rome burns.”
The board, borne out of an act of Congress in 2004 based on recommendations by the 9/11 Commission, has been dogged before. 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, congressional Democrats, and watchdog groups accused the Bush administration of not taking the endeavor seriously and dragging their feet in nominating members and getting the group up and running.