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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: Explain that. You have CIA officers being tried in absentia in Italy.

Ratner: That’s correct. There were twenty-four CIA officers involved in a conspiracy to kidnap an Egyptian cleric off the streets of Milan. There’s an independent prosecutor in Italy who has been running a trial now for probably a year or more, in which testimony is being taken on what those CIA agents have done. I think there’s arrest warrants issued for a number of those people throughout Europe. So that’s one relatively successful effort in Italy. And again, if you look at it, they actually kidnapped someone and violated the sovereignty of Italy, so they went after them.

Spain, likewise, has an investigation going on with a court, a judge, because the rendition flights landed in Majorca, they landed in Spain. And so, Spain looked, and its territory has been violated. So that’s going on.

But I think, overall, what we’re seeing here is—I mean, from my perspective, we’re seeing actually more push for prosecutions than I actually expected, that the American public, it seems, is not really giving the sort of Obama line, “Let’s look forward and not backward.” Of course, to me, prosecutions is looking forward, because that’s how you prevent torture in the future. So I think we’re seeing a much greater push. I do think, though, that, as I want to say, that the combination of the memos and Leahy should just really send a message to America that we’ve got to make these guys accountable.

Gonzalez: What about the—do you have any hopes for any more independent investigations going on in the House at all? Or in—

Ratner: Oh, I think that’s a good question. You know, I think Conyers has a better take on this than Leahy. Conyers does want a commission or an investigation set up, but his material also talks about accountability and prosecutions. I think if you had a commission here—not a commission; I would never call this a truth commission. I mean, this is not—this is not South Africa. This is not, you know, an emerging democracy from, you know, Chile or something. This is—supposedly was a functioning democracy. In that case, you don’t need, quote, “a truth commission." What you need is a commission of inquiry that’s going to lead to prosecutions. And I think that’s much more what Conyers is looking for. I’m sure he’s in favor of prosecutions. And, you know, there’s a huge effort, a grassroots effort, out there, as petitions—hundreds of thousands of people have signed this stuff.

Goodman: Finally, Maher Arar. The Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner, has represented this Canadian citizen, who was sent by the United States, when he was transiting through JFK Airport, took him, held him in detention, then sent him to Syria, where he was tortured, eventually got back to Canada. Tell us what is happening. This is a new administration, the Obama administration. What’s happened with this case? He was awarded $10 million by the Canadian government?

Ratner: He was awarded $10 million, completely cleared. As of the end of the Bush administration, he was still on the terrorist list, prohibiting him getting into this country. And there’s a major lawsuit that the Center has pending. We’re awaiting word from that from the Second Circuit here in New York. It was argued before the full set of judges on whether or not he could sue his torturers or really sue the people who sent him to torture—the FBI agents, Ashcroft and others—and whether that’s a constitutional violation. So that’s what we’re waiting on.

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