Congressional “Oversight”

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Republican congressmen seek to assure their colleagues that there are no dangers to the liberties of Americans in making the Patriot Act a permanent feature. “There will be congressional oversight” of government police practices, they coo.

There are two dictionary meanings to the word “oversight”: one involves “watchful and responsible care.” The other relates to “inadvertent omission or error.” Given the frequent inability of congressional committees to get executive departments to supply witnesses and/or documentary evidence; the countless numbers of covert and often illegal FBI, CIA, NSA, et. al., activities; the tendency for the executive branch to label the details of its acts “top secret” – and thus not available for congressional or public awareness; the Department of Justice’s ultra-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – whose decisions are never made public; and the systematic torture carried out by government agents at Abu Grahib and Guantanamo – not to forget the torture contracted out to foreign governments; the promise of congressional “oversight” becomes laughable, and a clear example of the second definition of the concept. “Government agents have been routinely violating the liberties of Americans? We’re sorry. That was simply an ‘oversight’ on our part. We shall set up more ‘oversight’ procedures!”

2:20 pm on July 21, 2005