Leahy announces March 'middle ground' hearing on Bush administration security abuses
Rachel Oswald and David Edwards
Published: Wednesday February 25, 2009

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced today he will hold a hearing next week to examine options for forming a nonpartisan commission to look into past national security polices and abuses of the Bush administration.

In remarks on the Senate floor late this morning Leahy (D-Vt) announced his hearing "Getting to the Truth Through a Nonpartisan Commission of Inquiry," which will be held at 10 a.m., Weds, March 4 and webcast live online.

"When historians look back at the last eight years, they will evaluate one of the most secretive administrations in the history of the United States," Leahy said in remarks provided by his office. "We also know that the past can be prologue unless we set things right. The last administration justified torture, presided over the abuses at Abu Ghraib, destroyed tapes of harsh interrogations, and conducted "extraordinary renditions" that sent people to countries that permit torture during interrogations.

"Nothing has done more to damage America's standing and moral authority than the revelations that, during the last eight years, we abandoned our historic commitment to human rights by repeatedly stretching the law and the bounds of executive power to authorize torture and cruel treatment," Leahy said.

Leahy has suggested an independent panel to focus on national security and executive power as related to counterterrorism efforts. The senator said he has begun to speak with other members in Congress, outside groups and experts, and officials in the White House about the proposal.

He called his commission a "middle ground" for both sides of the aisle to meet in.

"Such a commission's objective would be to find the truth. People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for the purpose of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts, to know what happened and to make sure mistakes are not repeated," Leahy said. "While many are focused on whether crimes were committed, it is just as important to learn if significant mistakes were made, regardless of whether they can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury to be criminal conduct. We compound the serious mistakes already made if we limit our inquiry to criminal investigations and trials."

The New York Times reported earlier this week that support is growing for some sort of investigation into Bush administration abuses.

Though Leahy stressed that his commission would not be about just prosecuting criminal cases, Glenn Greenwald speculated that the presence of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island on any fact-finding war-crimes commission might result in prosecutions anyway. Whitehouse is on both the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committee.

"Critically, he is also a former federal and state prosecutor and thus instinctively considers lawbreaking to be wrong no matter who is doing the lawbreaking," writes Greenwald. "His genuine passion to investigate these crimes is reflected in several speeches he has given demanding that these crimes not be "papered over."

The senator from Vermont first discussed a non-partisan commission of inquiry in a speech at Georgetown University on Feb. 9.

"There has been discussion, and in some cases disagreement, on how best to do this," said Leahy of any investigation into past Bush administration abuses. "There are some who resist any effort to investigate the misdeeds of the recent past. Indeed, some Republican Senators tried to extract a devil's bargain from Attorney General Holder - a commitment that he would not prosecute for anything that happened on President Bush's watch. That is a pledge no prosecutor should give, and Eric Holder did not. Congress has already passed laws granting immunity to those who facilitated warrantless wiretaps and conducted cruel interrogations."

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