Senate committee weighs Bush “truth commission”

Chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called for the creation of a truth commission to investigate the national security policies of the George W. Bush administration at a hearing March 4. Leahy said a nonpartisan inquiry “could focus on the issues of national security and executive power in the government’s counter-terrorism efforts, including the issues of cruel interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and executive override of laws.

Leahy said a commission would not be focused on preparing criminal indictments, but it should have subpoena powers. Ranking Republican on the committee Arlen Specter (R-PA) opposed the formation of a commission, saying the Justice Department was equipped to handle any such investigation. The committee heard testimony in favor of a commission from former ambassador to the UN Thomas Pickering, Retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, former 9-11 commission member John Farmer and attorney Federick A.O. Schwarz Jr.

Leahy announced the hearing in February, saying the panel’s primary focus would be interrogation tactics, extraordinary rendition, and Bush’s broad use of executive authority. Members of the House Judiciary Committee have also called for an investigation into Bush administration officials, and Obama has said that he would not rule out such an investigation. The Senate Armed Services Committee has alleged that top Bush officials, including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “bore major responsibility” for abuses committed by US interrogators in military detention centers. (Jurist, March 4)

The Justice Department March 2 released two memoranda and seven opinions authored by the White House Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) during the Bush presidency, supporting the administration’s counter-terrorism policies. The opinions, dated between 2001 and 2003, supported the president’s broad use of executive authority to detain and hold foreign and US citizen prisoners, approve extraordinary rendition, conduct intelligence gathering, suspend treaty limits on the ballistic missile defense system, and deploy US troops within the country to prevent or fight terrorist activity. The memos, dated 2008 and early 2009 expressed the OLC’s later departure from relying on these justifications.

The OLC has previously been criticized for authoring so-called “torture memos” justifying the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods. In February 2008, the Justice Department launched an internal probe into whether top department officials improperly approved the CIA’s use of the techniques. (Jurist, March 3)

See our last posts on the detainment scandal and the politics of the GWOT.