Obama signals he isn't interested in 'truth commission' to investigate Bush abuses
John Byrne
Published: Monday February 9, 2009

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President Barack Obama gave a cool welcome at his Monday night press conference to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) call for a "truth commission" to probe alleged abuses under George W. Bush, offering a fresh signal that the new president may not be interested in investigating President Bush.

Obama claimed at the first press conference of his presidency that he had not seen the proposal from Sen. Leahy and would have a look at it -- "but my general orientation is to say let's get it right moving forward."

But "my view is also that nobody is above the law. And if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen," Obama said.

Obama's remarks also come just a few weeks after House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) subpoenaed former Bush White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to testify about his knowledge in the firing of Bush US Attorneys and the prosecution of a Democratic Alabama governor. In the subpoena, Conyers invoked Obama and told Rove "it's time to talk."

Leahy, meanwhile, compared his proposed panel to South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, stressing that he did not want "to humiliate people" or lay the groundwork for prosecution.

"Rather than vengeance, we need a fair-minded pursuit of what actually happened. Sometimes the best way to move forward is getting to the truth, finding out what happened, so we can make sure it does not happen again," said Leahy.

The Vermont senator, who unveiled the proposal in a speech at Georgetown University, said he wanted to chart a middle way between those who want to prosecute Bush-era figures and those who want to wipe the slate clean.

"One path to that goal would be a reconciliation process and truth commission. We could develop and authorize a person or group of people universally recognized as fair minded, and without axes to grind," said the senator.

"People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts," said Leahy, a frequent Bush critic.

Obama, who has come under heavy pressure from his predecessor's Republican allies to forswear prosecutions of US intelligence personnel who used controversial interrogation tactics, declared that "generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards."

"I want to pull everybody together, including, by the way, all the members of the intelligence community who have done things the right way and have been working hard to protect America and I think sometimes are painted with a broad brush without adequate information," he said.

With Agence France-Presse