GWB’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Board
Did you know that President Bush has a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board? I didn’t, until now:
The White House was hit by two sudden resignations late Monday when Paul McNulty, a top Justice Department official, and Lanny Davis, the only Democratic member of the presidentâ€™s civil liberties watchdog board, announced they were stepping down.
At the same time, Davis, a former Clinton White House official who had been named by President Bush to serve on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, sent a letter to the White House and his fellow board members protesting the panelâ€™s lack of independence. In recent months, Davis has had numerous clashes with fellow board members and White House officials over what he saw as administration attempts to control the panelâ€™s agenda and edit its public statements, according to board members who asked not to be identified talking about internal matters. He also cited in his letters criticisms by the former co-chairs of the September 11 commission, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, that the board had interpreted its mandate too narrowly and was refusing to investigate issues such as the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere around the world.
Davisâ€™s frustration reached a peak last month when White House lawyers engaged in what he described in his letter as â€œsubstantialâ€ edits of the boardâ€™s annual report to Congress. Davis charged that a majority of the board sought to remove an extensive discussion of recent findings by the Justice Departmentâ€™s inspector general of FBI abuses in the uses of so-called â€œnational security lettersâ€ to obtain personal data on U.S. citizens without a court order. He also charged that the White House counselâ€™s office wanted to strike language stating that the panel planned to investigate complaints from civil liberties groups that the Justice Department had improperly used a â€œmaterial witness statuteâ€ to lock up terror suspects for lengthy periods of time without charging them with any crimes.
When Davis protested the attempted deletions, he said the board was told that the White House lawyers feared that because the material witness law was used by U.S. attorneys, a new probe of that issue would become a part of the larger controversy over the firing of U.s. attorneys. â€œI found this reason to be inappropriateâ€”and emblematic of the sincere view, with which I strongly disagreed, of at least some administration officials and a majority of the Board that the Board was wholly part of the White House staff and political structure, rather than an independent oversight entity,â€ Davis wrote in his letter.