(CNSNews.com) - The Bush administration could learn from Democrats in Congress about how to improve aviation security while maintaining civil liberties, according to a group composed of families of those who perished in the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.
A report card issued Monday by the Homeland Security Alliance gives the Bush administration only a "C-" grade for the way it has handled aviation security and civil rights. The president of the alliance, Stephen Push, lost his wife on Sept. 11. She was aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
The alliance does believe the administration's performance in conducting the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has been exemplary.
Push said aviation security has improved little since 19 terrorists boarded four airplanes on Sept. 11 armed with crude weapons such as box cutters. One year later, "half of all weapons" and "two-thirds of all knives" still pass through airport screeners, he said.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has also failed to ensure that terrorists would be prevented from smuggling explosive devices onto airplanes, Push said. By his account, a terrorist could board a flight scheduled to make one or more transfers, plant an explosive device, and simply not return for the flight's next destination.
Push also faults the Bush administration and the Department of Justice (DOJ) for a "disturbing trend in the erosion of civil liberties."
He strongly disagrees with DOJ's practice of detaining "American citizens" suspected of plotting terror without possessing any hard evidence to convict them. Push said those terror suspects have been unjustly placed in isolation while officials searched for enough evidence to build a case against them.
He awarded high marks primarily to Democrats in Congress who support the formation of an independent commission to investigate the events that led up to Sept. 11, a concept the Bush administration opposes.
Reps. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) and Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) each received an A+ from Push for their leadership in winning passage of an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Bill that would create an independent commission to study the terrorist attacks.
In addition, Push awarded Roemer and Smith his organization's first annual Sept. 11th Homeland Security Award.
Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) received the grade of "A" for introducing the Lieberman-McCain Independent Commission Bill (S. 1867) to establish the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Robert Toricelli (D-N.J.) were also among those Push awarded the grade of "A" for their active support of the independent commission bill.
However, "active opposition" to the formation of an independent commission earned both Senate Minority Leader Trent (R-Miss.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) the failing grade of "F".
Lott has voiced his opposition to the formation of an independent commission because of the time it would take for Congress to secure funding and select acceptable panel members. Once it was established, Lott said the commission would take months just to produce any findings.
Congress, Lott said, can ask and answer the same questions within its own intelligence committees.
Push disagrees, insisting, "Congress can't investigate itself."
Push is lobbying for an independent commission composed of a "blue ribbon" panel that has few government ties. He said those selected for the panel would be a "step removed" from the politics that abound in the intelligence committees that Lott supports.
Ninety-six percent of the families of Sept. 11 victims strongly support the formation of an independent commission, Push asserted, so they can truly know their loved ones "didn't die in vain."E-mail a news tip to Michael L. Betsch.
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