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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.

Democracy Now! Co-Host Gonzalez: On Capitol Hill, debate has begun over forming a truth commission to shed light on the Bush administration’s secret polices on detention, interrogation and domestic spying. A hearing on the issue was held Wednesday, two days after the Obama administration released a series of once-secret Bush administration Justice Department memos that authorized President Bush to deploy the military to carry out raids inside the United States. The author of the memos, John Yoo, said Bush could disregard the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, committee chair Patrick Leahy said the newly released memos highlight the need for a truth commission.

    Sen. Patrick Leahy Vice President Dick Cheney and others from the Bush administration continue to assert that their tactics, including torture, were appropriate and effective. I don’t think we should let only one side define history on such important questions. It’s important for an independent body to hear these assertions, but also for others, if we’re going to make an objective and independent judgment about what happened and whether it did make our nation safe or less safe.


    Just this week, the Department of Justice released more alarming documents from the Office of Legal Counsel demonstrating the last administration’s pinched view of constitutionally protected rights. The memos disregarded the Fourth and First Amendment, justifying warrantless searches, the suppression of free speech, surveillance without warrants, and transferring people to countries known to conduct interrogations that violate human rights. How can anyone suggest such policies do not deserve a thorough, objective review?


    I am encouraged that the Obama administration is moving forward. I’m encouraged that a number of the things that—number of the issues we’ve been stonewalled on before are now becoming public. But how did we get to a point where we were holding a legal US resident for more than five years in a military brig without ever bringing charges against him? How did we get to a point where Abu Ghraib happened? How did we get to a point where the United States government tried to make Guantanamo Bay a law-free zone, in order to deny accountability for our actions? How did we get to a point where our premier intelligence agency, the CIA, destroyed nearly a hundred videotapes with evidence of how detainees were being interrogated? How did we get to a point where the White House could say, “If we tell you to do it, even if it breaks the law, it’s alright, because we’re above the law”?


Amy Goodman: Senator Patrick Leahy, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. At Wednesday’s hearing, several Republican senators and witnesses opposed the creation of a truth commission. This is attorney David Rivkin.

    David Rivkin: There’s another large problem that looms in my view. It’s important to recognize that the commission’s most deleterious and dangerous impact would be to greatly increase the likelihood of former senior US government officials being tried overseas, whether in courts of foreign nations or through international tribunals. And the reason for it is because the matters to be investigated by the commission implicate not only US criminal statues but also international law and which are arguably subject to claims of universal jurisdiction by foreign states.

    I have no doubt that foreign prosecutors would eagerly seize upon the supposedly advisory determination that criminal conduct occurred, especially if it is the only authoritative statement on the subject by an official US body as a pretext to commence investigations and bring charges against former government officials. If they were clever, and most of them are, they would argue that the mere fact that the commission was established vividly demonstrates that grave crimes must have been occurred and interpret UN non-prosecution of individuals concerned through formal prosecutorial channels as a mere technicality to be repaired by their own broad assertions of jurisdiction.

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