Report: Because of Bush obstinance, civil liberties board exists 'in name only'
Published: Wednesday July 9, 2008

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President Bush is refusing to nominate the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's pick to serve on a government privacy and civil liberties board, raising the prospect that the board will remain member-less and inactive until his term is over.

The report from Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, ironically came the same day the Senate voted to approve a controversial surveillance bill decried by civil liberties advocates.

Without any public announcement, the White House recently sent a letter to Capitol Hill stating it would nominate only one of two names recommended by congressional leaders to sit on the five-member civil liberties panel. The candidate whose name it would not forward: Morton Halperin, a veteran and sometimes controversial civil liberties advocate who has a famous role in the history of modern debates over government wiretapping. While serving on the National Security Council during the early days of the Nixon administration, Halperin's phone was secretly wiretapped by the FBI because his then boss, Henry Kissinger, suspected he was leaking to the press. The White House gave no explanation for why it had vetoed Halperin from serving on the civil liberties panel. But the move prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to tell the White House that the Senate, in retaliation, will not move any of President Bush's three candidates for the panel (one of whom, Ronald Rotunda, was once a legal adviser to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld). "How would we ever get our nominees confirmed if we could only confirm Republicans?" explained Jim Manley, Reid's spokesman, when asked about the majority leader's hardball stand.

The five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Board was created in 2004 after being recommended by the 9/11 Commission. President Bush initially refused to nominate anyone at all leaving the commission vacant since the previous board's term ended in January.

"Although it was first mandated by Congress in Dec. 2004, and reauthorized with newly independent powers nearly a year ago, the civil liberties board exists today in name only," Isikoff and Hosenball write. "It has no office, no staff and no members."