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Facing the Cold, Hard Truth

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By Dana Milbank
Thursday, March 5, 2009

Let's be truthful about it: Things aren't looking so good for the Truth Commission.

Chief Pursuer of Truth Patrick Leahy cut a lonely figure yesterday as he tried to persuade the Senate Judiciary Committee to endorse his plan for such a commission to probe the Bush administration's treatment of suspected terrorists.

About half of the audience seats in the committee room were full. The press tables: mostly empty. Even the dozen demonstrators in orange jumpsuits got bored with the proceedings and left before the hearing ended. Of the 19 members of the committee, only three, including Leahy, the chairman, bothered to question the witnesses.

The ranking Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, used his opening statement to tease Truth-Seeker Leahy. He inserted into the record an article titled "Leahy's un-American activities commission," along with an accompanying photo showing a perturbed Leahy. "I would ask for you, Mr. Chairman, also to put in this elegant picture of the chairman," Specter proposed.

"I could care less about the picture," Leahy grumbled.

"Well, I've seen a lot of pictures of Senator Leahy, few as good as this," Specter went on, offering up the photo. "Here you are, fellows."

The sparse attendance and the jocular opposition were solid signs that the Truth Commission was foundering on the shoals of indifference.

"I really do regret not being able to stay," Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) remarked before departing.

"I regret that I have other commitments, so I'm going to have to excuse myself," said Specter, "but I hope to return to participate in the questions." He didn't.

Leahy spied the committee's most junior member, Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), at the end of a long row of empty seats. "Why don't you move on down here with us, please?" the chairman urged.

After the lone Republican questioner left the room, Leahy voiced his frustration to the two GOP witnesses. "The folks who invited you here didn't stay to ask you the questions," he complained to David Rivkin, a Reagan administration lawyer. "You were invited by the other side of the aisle, but they've all left," he told George Mason University's Jeremy Rabkin.

The truth about the Truth Commission is that opponents don't see it as much of a threat. President Obama pretty much torpedoed the idea the same day Leahy introduced it. "I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backward," he said.


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