Rights need protection

Basic freedoms – the ones cited in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights – were given a lot of thought by our nation’s founders. For the first few decades of the United States of America’s existence, whether actions by presidents and congresses met the strict tests of liberty the founders used was a primary consideration among both national and state leaders.

That does not seem to be the case now. For many years, freedoms once taken for granted by Americans have been traded, sometimes reluctantly and sometimes cheerfully, for promises of prosperity and security. Much of the erosion of our liberties came as result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The executive branch of government was given enormous power, beyond even what has been granted during some of our declared wars, in the name of national security.

But as U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin pointed out recently, the same commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks and recommended new security measures also stressed they should come with safeguards for our liberties. The panel recommended creation of a White House Office of Civil Liberties. Neither former President George W. Bush nor incumbent President Barack Obama followed through.

Manchin, D-W.Va., believes such an office should be established. He is right. Though some federal agencies – notably, the attorney general’s office – are supposed to watch for abuses and act against them, this has become a case of the fox guarding the chicken coop. Some of the worst infringements of civil liberties brought to light during recent weeks have originated in that Cabinet department, with Attorney General Eric Holder’s approval.

A new, independent Office of Civil Rights, functioning somewhat as inspectors general do in uncovering and publicizing other types of abuses in government, should be established. It should be a bipartisan agency, not subject to control by the White House or, perhaps, even Congress.

In suggesting such an agency, Manchin told a reporter this: “Somebody better be looking at what are my liberties, what are my rights, what are my freedoms. What did my Founding Fathers intend for me to have as an American?”

Precisely. Manchin should lead a move in Congress to make answering those questions – and, if necessary, blowing the whistle on those who violate our rights – a new priority in government.