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Hearing of the Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties of the House Committee on Judiciary - "Civil liberties and National Security"


Location: Unknown

Today, House Judiciary Committee chairman, John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) led the Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties hearing on "Civil liberties and National Security." The hearing is one out of a series of hearings that the subcommittee has hosted, exploring developments and issues related to assuring national security and protecting civil rights and civil liberties in the process. Today's hearing covered issues including: enhanced interrogation tactics, prosecution of terrorist suspects, intelligence sharing, and the mass detentions at Guantanamo Bay.

Below is an excerpt of Chairman Conyers' opening remarks.

I would like to make a couple of points as we open the hearing today. First, I think all members must agree that, whatever their intentions, the administration of President George W. Bush left behind a grossly expanded national-security state and an unfortunate legacy of civil rights abuses. Chief among these were:

* The creation of off-the-books "black sites" and the use of waterboarding
* The cover up of these interrogation crimes by destroying videotapes of these brutal interrogations
* The construction of a vast domestic surveillance apparatus, and widespread warrantless surveillance
* Mass detentions at the Guantanamo Bay island prison with virtually no process of law or accountability
* Extraordinary rendition of suspects to foreign governments for abusive interrogation
* Violations of congressional enactments such as the McCain Amendment which prevents abuse of detainees through illegitimate "signing statements"
* Abusive invocation of the "state secrets" privilege to shut down lawsuits challenging executive branch actions
* Claims of executive privilege and immunity from congressional subpoena to avoid congressional oversight
* Abuses of USA PATRIOT Act provisions on national security letters which allow records to be seized on the thinnest legal showing of mere "relevance", "library" provision, and the sneak-and-peek searches

Second, President Obama started his term on a positive note, when he banned torture and the use of secret prisons or "black sites," ordered the Guantanamo detention camp closed, and revoked and released the gravely flawed Office of Legal Counsel torture memos. But, the progress has not been nearly enough, and these positives steps are in many ways undermined by other disappointments. For instance, the administration has failed to adequately investigate or prosecute apparent national security crimes, such as torture and waterboarding, and does not appear to have even investigated those who approved or ordered these crimes. This would include former President Bush, who has admitted personally approving these acts. And, despite the efforts of the president's task force, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp remains open with 170 detainees still in limbo. While we in Congress deserve our fair share of the blame for this failure, it is, nevertheless, a failure.

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