Senate Should Pursue Truth About Bush-Cheney Abuses

Proposing the creation of a "truth commission" to examine the high
crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush-Cheney administration, Senate
Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy declared Monday that, "The past
can be prologue unless we set things right."

"As to the best course of action for bringing a reckoning for the
actions of the past eight years, there has been heated disagreement,"
the Vermont Democrat explained in a lecture delivered at Georgetown
University under the title: "Restoring Trust in the Justice System: The
Senate Judiciary Committee's Agenda In The 111th Congress."

Outlining differences of opinion on the issue, Leahy said:

There are some who resist any effort to investigate the
misdeeds of the recent past. Indeed, some Republican Senators tried to
extract a devil's bargain from the Attorney General nominee in exchange
for their votes, a commitment that he would not prosecute for anything
that happened on President Bush's watch. That is a pledge no prosecutor
should give, and Eric Holder did not, but because he did not, it
accounts for many of the partisan votes against him.

There are others who say that, even if it takes all of the next
eight years, divides this country, and distracts from the necessary
priority of fixing the economy, we must prosecute Bush administration
officials to lay down a marker. Of course, the courts are already
considering congressional subpoenas that have been issued and claims of
privilege and legal immunities - and they will be for some time.

There is another option that we might also consider, a middle ground. A
middle ground to find the truth. We need to get to the bottom of what
happened -- and why -- so we make sure it never happens again.

To that end, Leahy continued:

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 axes 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 in
order to get to the whole truth. Congress has already granted 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.

During the past several years, this country has been divided as deeply
as it has been at any time in our history since the Civil War. It has
made our government less productive and our society less civil.
President Obama is right that we cannot afford extreme partisanship and
debilitating divisions. In this week when we begin commemorating the
Lincoln bicentennial, there is need, again, "to bind up the nation's
wounds." President Lincoln urged that course in his second inaugural
address some seven score and four years ago.

Rather than vengeance, we need a fair-minded pursuit of what actually
happened. Sometimes the best way to move forward is getting to the
truth, finding out what happened, so we can make sure it does not
happen again. When I came to the Senate, the Church Committee was
working to expose the excesses of an earlier era. Its work helped
ensure that in years to come, we did not repeat the mistakes of the
past. We need to think about whether we have arrived at such a time,
again. We need to come to a shared understanding of the failures of the
recent past.

Though he acknowledged that the high crimes and misdemeanors of the
Bush-Cheney administration were worse than the Watergate-era abuses of
former President Richard Nixon and his aides, Leahy was unduly
deferrent to the White House, saying that, "We need to see whether
there is interest in (in this proposal from) the new administration."

In fact, Leahy and other members of the legislative branch are
making a mistake when the defer to the executive branch when it comes
to taking the steps that the Judiciary Committee chairman says should
be taken to repair a broken system of checks and balances.

This was made painfully clear at Barack Obama's press conference
where, after being asked about Leahy's proposal, the new president did
not exactly wrap himself in the Constitution.

President Barack Obama said Monday he would examine a leading
senator's plan to investigate allegations of wrongdoing against former
Bush administration officials, but was "more interested in looking

Though he acknowledged that "nobody is above the law" and said that his
administration would leave "no doubt" that the United States does not
torture, follows the Geneva Conventions and respects the rule of law,
Obama stuck to the line he has clung to for months: "generally
speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than looking

"I will take a look at Senator Leahy's proposal," the president said,
"but my general orientation is to say, 'Let's get it right moving

If Obama was teaching a Constitutional law course, he would have
taken a different line. Unfortunately, he has decided to play politics
with the matter of executive accountability.

Leahy should not wait for an O.K. from the White House.

The establishment of a truth commission -- first advanced by Ohio
Congressman Dennis Kucinich as a compromise short of the impeachment
that George Bush and Dick Cheney so richly deserved -- is the least
that Congress can do to begin taping together a shredded Constitution.

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