Yesterday, in a party-line vote, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for the creation of a committee to study the “weaponization of the federal government.” Although the select committee will be housed within the Judiciary Committee, non-Judiciary Committee members can and will likely be appointed to it.
Critics of the Committee have accused it of being a partisan tool aimed at avenging Republican grievances from the January 6 Committee and other Congressional oversight of the Trump Administration. Its supporters, however, have likened it to the Church Committee, the groundbreaking Senate investigation into the illegal and unethical conduct of the intelligence community at home and abroad.
Defending Rights & Dissent has long called for a new Church Committee. And in the late 1970s and 1980s, we led the grassroots movement to defend and expand the post-Church Committee restrictions on domestic surveillance and covert action from attacks from the New Right and the Reagan Administration.
The resolution passed by the House unfortunately does not mirror the Church Committee’s broad mandate to oversee intelligence agency abuses, but instead talks in its own broad terms of executive branch monitoring of US citizens with no specific agencies named. As some of the most heinous abuses of civil liberties, including indefinite detention and extrajudicial executions, have been carried under the guise of the War on Terror, this means that they may fall outside the purview of the committee. Nonetheless, a review of politically motivated domestic surveillance is urgently needed. Defending Rights & Dissent has repeatedly documented political bias in the initiation of domestic terrorism investigations, including in our groundbreaking report Still Spying on Dissent: The Enduring Problem of FBI First Amendment Abuse.
As a non-partisan organization, we have worked with elected officials of both parties, and across many ideologies, including conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and democratic socialists.
Our doors remain open to anyone who wants to conduct serious oversight over the national security state and its abuses of civil liberties.
There are representatives on both sides of the aisle who have raised legitimate concerns about surveillance. If this committee is serious, it must include the strongest civil libertarians from both parties and focus on the full range of politically abusive surveillance, including surveillance of racial justice activists, environmentalists, peace activists, Muslims and Chinese Americans
It remains to be seen if this committee will be a legitimate heir to the Church Committee or an echo chamber for the faux outrage of cable news pundits and online grievance mongers.
Defending Rights & Dissent remains open and willing to work with all committee members to make sure it exercises proper oversight.