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The Case for Establishing a Truth Commission for Bush's Torture and Spying Crew

On Capitol Hill, debate has begun over forming a truth commission to shed light on the Bush administration’s secret and illegal terror polices.

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Goodman: Human rights attorney Michael Ratner joins us now in the firehouse studio, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, author of the book The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld , among others.

Welcome to Democracy Now! I want to talk about the secret memos. Let’s start with this hearing that has been called by Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling for an investigation into Bush administration crimes.

Michael Ratner: You know, I won’t say I’m exactly biased here, but I think essentially that the Leahy commission is an excuse for non-prosecution. It’s essentially saying, “Let’s put some stuff on the public record. Let’s immunize people. And then,” as he even said, “let’s turn the page and go forward.” That’s really an excuse for non-prosecution. And in the face of what we’ve seen in this country, which is essentially a coup d’etat, a presidential dictatorship and torture, it’s essentially a mouse-like reaction to what we’ve seen. And it’s being set up really by a liberal establishment that is really, in some ways, in many ways, on the same page as the establishment that actually carried out these laws. And it’s saying, “OK, let’s expose it, and then let’s move on.”

And he even says, he says what we’re going to do with the truth commission is we’re going to look and see what mistakes were made. I mean, just ask the hundred people who were tortured in the secret sites about what mistakes were made, or ask the 750 people at Guantanamo, or ask the people at Abu Ghraib. This is not about mistakes. This is about fundamental lawbreaking, about the disposal of the Constitution, and about the end of treaties. So I think, actually, that Leahy’s current proposal is extremely dangerous. I call it the lame commission or basically an excuse for non-prosecution.

Gonzalez: And you think that there’s no essential difference between him and the Obama—the White House position at this point?

Ratner: You know, I don’t think he would be out there without the Obama administration at least saying this is maybe a way to go. Look at, there’s a lot of pressure in this country right now for prosecutions. I mean, the polls indicate that people want to see a criminal investigation. We’ve had open—open and notorious admissions of waterboarding by people like Cheney. And we know that waterboarding is torture, even according to Obama.

So, how do you diffuse that pressure? And one way you diffuse it is you set up a, quote, “truth commission” that’s going to give immunity to people. And then, as Leahy himself says—the word he used, I think, is that he objects to those “fixated” on prosecution. Well, you know, it’s a legal requirement that you prosecute torturers in your country. And yet, he calls us “fixated” on it and wants to make this excuse. So I think this is, in a way—you don’t know this—but in conjunction with the Obama administration saying, “Let’s do this. It will dispose of, you know, the human rights groups in the world and others. And let’s go forward.”

Gonzalez: And your assessment of these latest memos that the Justice Department has released, in terms of the further proof that they show possible criminal actions?

Ratner: I’m glad you said that, Juan, “further proof,” because, you know, we’ve known a lot of this from the beginning. You know, I remember, actually, six weeks after 9/11 writing an article called “Moving Toward a Police State (Or Have We Arrived?)” And we’ve certainly seen the effects of these memos. We’ve seen the military arrest Jose Padilla in the United States. We’ve seen them do that to al-Marri. We’ve seen torture. We’ve seen secret sites. We’ve seen warrantless wiretapping.

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