Friday, February 13, 2009

Senator Pat Leahy Proposes Truth Commission On Bush Administration Abuses

Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, has proposed a truth commission to investigate the Bush administration's illegal activities. Leahy contends that his compromise proposal would not focus on prosecution but on revealing the truth about abuses of power "from torture to illegal wiretapping." He said the following at a speech at Georgetown University, as seen in the video above:

I think there is another option... You could probably call it a middle ground, but a middle ground to find the truth. We need to get to the bottom of what happened and why, and the reason we do that is so that it will never happen again.

One path to that goal would be a reconciliation process and truth commission. We could develop and authorize a person or group of people universally recognized as fair minded, and without any axe to grind. Their straightforward mission would be to find the truth. People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts.

If needed, such a process could involve subpoena powers, and even the authority to obtain immunity from prosecutions for anything except perjury in order to get to the full truth. Congress has already granted some immunity, over my objection, to those who facilitated warrantless wiretaps and those who conducted cruel interrogations. It would be far better to use that authority to learn the truth.

President Obama signaled his reluctance to engage in an investigation, stating, "I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” but “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Republicans are against any commission; Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, senior Republican of the House Judiciary Committee, said the proposal was a scheme "to unjustly malign former Bush administration officials."

Smith must have been referring to those who considered potential hires at the Justice Department according to their political views, engaged in illegal wiretaps to eavesdrop on Americans, approved the war crime of waterboarding, and sent detainees to foreign countries that reputedly torture (extraordinary rendition), among other crimes. "Unjustly maligned," indeed.

Paul Krugman disagreed with the president's readiness to move on, writing that an investigation is the only way to ensure that the abuses are not repeated:

I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.

Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. It’s not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation’s security. The fact is that the Bush administration’s abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.

...There’s much, much more. By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years — in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq?

Why, then, shouldn’t we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years?

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