WASHINGTON - The incoming Democratic chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee promised on Wednesday to combat what he denounced as President George W. Bush's war-time trampling of American rights.
"We have a duty to repair real damage done to our system of government over the last few years," Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said in outlining his panel's agenda for the 110th, Democratic-led Congress, which is set to convene on January 4.
"Americans' privacy is a price the Bush administration is willing to pay for the cavalier way it is spawning new databanks. But privacy rights belong to the people, not to the government," Leahy said.
Leahy made the comments in a speech entitled, "Ensuring Liberty and Security Through Checks and Balances," to be delivered at the Georgetown University Law Center.
Leahy and other Democrats have complained about Bush's tactics in the war on terror, particularly the Republican president's warrantless domestic spying program that Democrats and some Republicans say violates the law.
But as the minority in Congress, Democrats were unable to hold hearings or pass legislation to stop or revise such programs.
Having won control of Congress from Republicans in last month's elections, Democrats have promised oversight hearings on Bush's prosecution of the unpopular Iraq war.
They will also be positioned to push legislation to change the president's policies, though Bush could veto them.
"We are way overdue in catching up to the erosion of privacy," Leahy said. "This will be one of our highest priorities."
Leahy said he also would press for accountability "over the use and abuse of billions of taxpayers' dollars, sent as development aid to Iraq."
He also said his committee would consider measures to help Iraq build an effective law enforcement and legal system, a need stressed by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that made recommendations to Bush on changing his Iraq policies.
© Reuters 2006