Shields: Supporting Leahy’s initiative

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(HOST) Commentator Geoff Shields, President and Dean of Vermont Law School, has been thinking about human rights, civil liberties and the American public’s "need to know."

(SHIELDS) Vermont’s Senator Patrick Leahy has called for a commission to investigate torture and eavesdropping.  I agree with his initiative.

We are most likely to take the firm steps needed to protect civil liberties if we, the people, are fully informed of the abuses which have taken place since 9/11.

In the mid-1970s, I served as Foreign Policy Advisor and Counsel to Senator Frank Church who, at that time, chaired a committee to examine intelligence abuses.  Senator Church believed in the wisdom of the American people.  He believed that, once informed of the facts, we, the people would insist on ethical and moral behavior of our government.  He believed that, in turn, intelligence hearings conducted by a special Senate committee would cause a welling-up of popular outrage which, in turn, would cause Congress to act.

Senator Church proved correct.  His committee documented the CIA’s attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, the NSA’s watch-listing of civil rights and anti-war activists, and the FBI’s campaign to drive the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to suicide.

These revelations led directly to reforms: the ban on assassinations, the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to approve national-security eavesdropping, and the establishment of congressional oversight of the intelligence agencies.

I also believe a coherent and thorough airing of the eavesdropping, rendition and torture abuses of the last five years will cause the American people to insist on civil liberty safeguards going forward.

To galvanize the public to insist on effective legislative action to address these abuses, we need special hearings with subpoena power and a first-rate staff.  

Senator Leahy is right in wanting to shed light on these practices.  Without the hearings advocated by Senator Leahy, we risk simply moving on without taking the congressional action needed to assure protection of the fundamental human rights and civil liberties that we, the people hold so dear.

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