By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday called for a "truth commission" to investigate controversial actions of the Bush administration, including the politically inspired firings of U.S. attorneys, the treatment and torture of terrorism suspects and the authorization of warrantless wiretapping.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said his proposal is meant to launch a fact-finding inquiry into key decisions of George W. Bush's presidency, including intelligence matters before and during the Iraq war and scandals at the Department of Justice. He said such a commission would not seek to prosecute former administration officials but would have the power to subpoena them to testify.
"Rather than vengeance, we need a fair-minded pursuit of what actually happened," Leahy said as he outlined his proposal during a speech at Georgetown University. "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."
Leahy likened the proposed commission to the "truth and reconciliation" panels that investigated the apartheid regime in South Africa and the 1979 Ku Klux Klan massacre in Greensboro, N.C. He said the commission could be made up of "a group of people universally recognized as fair minded and without axes to grind."
"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," Leahy said.
Leahy's proposal is similar to legislation introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who wants to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the Bush administration's activities on detention, interrogation and surveillance.
Rob Saliterman, a spokesman for Bush, declined to comment, saying, "We're not going to respond to every call for more investigations."
President Obama, when asked about Leahy's proposal in last night's news conference, seemed to shy away from it.
"My view is . . . that nobody's above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen. But that generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards," Obama said.
He later added: "I will take a look at Senator Leahy's proposal, but my general orientation is to say let's get it right moving forward."
It is unclear whether Leahy's plan will take hold on Capitol Hill either. Democratic leaders opposed efforts last year by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) to impeach then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney. Asked about Leahy's proposal, Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), said, "It's something we'll have to take a look at."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in an interview with Fox News last month, did not endorse investigating the Bush administration but came close. "We cannot let the politicizing of -- for example, the Justice Department -- to go unreviewed," Pelosi said. "Past is prologue. We learn from it."
Under Leahy's proposal, the commission would investigate the dismissals of nine prosecutors and other political disputes at the Justice Department that led to the resignations of more than a dozen senior officials, including then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
Republicans, meanwhile, have resisted investigating the past administration.
"If every administration started to reexamine what every prior administration did, there would be no end to it," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said last month. "This is not Latin America."