Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Leahy Wants `Truth Commission’ To Examine Bush Administration

Feb. 9, 2009 – 1:03 p.m.
By Seth Stern, CQ Staff

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy , D-Vt., proposed Monday the creation of an independent commission to examine alleged wrongdoing during the Bush administration.

Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, gave few details about what form such a commission might take in a speech at Georgetown University but proposed investigating everything from the Bush administration’s detainee and interrogation policies to the war in Iraq and the firing of U.S. Attorneys. He also suggested such a commission should examine instances “where oversight committees were lied to.”

Leahy suggested those who testified before such a commission could receive immunity against prosecution as a way to encourage people “to come forward and share their knowledge.”

“We need to come to a shared understanding of the failures of the recent past,” Leahy said.

Leahy said he wanted to find a “middle ground to find the truth” and thus positioned himself in the center of the ongoing debate among Democrats about whether to investigate the Bush administration’s decisions. President Obama has signaled he doesn’t necessarily want to delve into the actions of his predecessor while Leahy’s counterpart in the House, John Conyers Jr. , D-Mich., has introduced legislation (HR 104) to create a more narrowly focused commission to examine presidential war powers and civil liberties that could lead to prosecutions.

Leahy cited as potential models the Church Commission of the 1970s, which investigated illegal intelligence gathering activities, or South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission established to examine that nation’s apartheid-era government. Leahy said the 9/11 Commission, with its membership appointed by both the legislative and executive branches, is also another potential model though he said he was concerned that it was ultimately “stonewalled by the administration.”

“We need to be able to read the page before we turn the page,” Leahy said.

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