Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bush Truth Commission on the Horizon?

Will we see a replay of the 1970s-era Church Commission? What would that do for our political landscape?

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) told Salon that some type of truth commission seeking to highlight Bush administration actions torture and other war crimes is imminent. According to the story, Whitehouse responded in effusive terms to a question of whether the public knows much about the past eight years. Here's how the reporter described his response: "His eyes grew large and he nodded slowly. 'Stay on this,' he said. 'This is going to be big.'"

In the current edition of Time, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee of which Whitehouse is a part, called for a truth commission modeled in part by the Church Commission of the early 1970s, which uncovered illegal surveillance methods by the CIA and FBI. In light of a divided electorate, Leahy believes Americans need to know the truth, saying, "Rather than vengeance, we need an impartial pursuit of what actually happened and a shared understanding of the failures of the recent past."

Sen. Frank Church, whose commission ultimately led to the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), spoke in similar terms during a speech at The Commonwealth Club in 1975:

[Intelligence agencies] must function in the most delicate of all realms: mandated to maintain security without impairing freedom. if they engage in wrong-doing, it is not a casual matter that can be safely swept under the rug....

If we fail to restore a proper regard for the common good within the framework of the law, then creeping anarchy will gradually replace the rule of law altogether. In its wake will surely come the repressive measures that frightened people will then find preferable. There can be no successful preservation of liberty outside the law.

Since 2006, when the Democrats gained a majority in Congress, many liberals have criticized Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for failing to push for congressional hearings of alleged indiscretion or for impeachment of President Bush. Last week, Pelosi told Rolling Stone she believes senior Bush administration officials could be prosecuted: "The American people deserve answers."

But today Pelosi sounded less enamored with Leahy's proposal, because of the possible inclusion of immunity. In an interview today with Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, the speaker said, "What I have some concern about, though, is it has immunity. And I think that some of the issues involved here, like the services part, politicizing of the Justice Department, and the rest, they have criminal ramifications, and I don't think we should be giving them immunity."

Regardless of the political merry-go-round, it appears that some sort of hearings into the misdeeds of the Bush administration are squarely on the radar of Democrats.


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