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Senate to announce investigation of torture under Bush, senators say
John Byrne
Published: Wednesday February 25, 2009


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Click for Update: March 'middle ground' hearing will probe for Bush admin abuses



The Senate is quietly preparing plans to investigate allegations of torture under President George W. Bush, according to comments published Wednesday by Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The Senate Judiciary Committee could announce a hearing to consider various plans to probe allegations of torture as early as today, according to Salon's Mark Benjamin, citing Committee Chairman Pat Leahy and members of his staff.

Leahy's office told Raw Story Wednesday morning that a press release would be sent out shortly.

Sen. Whitehouse said he’s “convinced” the investigation will move forward.

“Stay on this,” he told Benjamin. “This is going to be big.”

Whitehouse, Senator from Rhode Island, is “spearheading” the efforts,
and as a member of both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, “is
privy to information about interrogations he can’t yet share,” the magazine noted.

Plans to establish the commission still remain in their infancy, as senators and staff look at previous panels, such as the 9-11 Commission, and investigations following Watergate. Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney, noted that a torture commission might need the power to immunize witnesses on a case-by-case basis. The prospect of future prosecutions, he said, are beside the point. Most important was putting a spotlight on abuses committed by the Bush administration.

Leahy previously suggested a “truth commission” could be modeled after
a panel that probed apartheid in South Africa. The commission should
have “subpoena power and witnesses would not face charges except if
they commit perjury," he told The Wall Street Journal earlier this
month.

Essentially, witnesses would get prosecutorial immunity in exchange for the truth.

President Barack Obama has vowed his administration won’t torture
terror suspects and said prosecutions should be brought in “clear
instances of wrongdoing.” But he has also said, “I’m more interested
in looking forward than I am in looking backward.”

Whitehouse, however, predicted that Obama would not object to a torture commission moving forward in Congress.

"When you look at the economic meltdown that [Obama] was left by the Bush administration, you can see why he would want to reassure the American public that he is out there looking at these problems and trying to solve them and not focusing on the sins of the past," he said.

Besides, he added, "When push comes to shove, we are the legislative branch of government. We have oversight responsibilities. And we don't need the executive branch's approval to look into these things just as a constitutional matter."

"We have this American government, which has an architecture and a shape and a system that drives it and constrains it and that keeps it honest," he continued. "And what happened is that the Bush administration figured out a lot of ways to tunnel through the walls and sneak over the fences. So now we need to go back and say, 'We have got to plant those walls deeper so you can not tunnel under them.' We've got to spotlight how they did it... The ultimate goal in this is to protect and enhance American democracy."

Members of the Bush Administration haven't been as resistant to the concept of a truth commission than they might have been at first glance.

“My view has always been to be as cooperative as possible,” former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the Washington Independent, an alternative news site. “And that’s what I’ve been with respect to everything. As far as I’m concerned I’ve got nothing to hide and I’ll cooperate. Every time I’ve been asked to cooperate, I’ve cooperated. In terms of what happens in the future, I’m not going to comment on that, but that is what I’ve done in the past.”

Robert Luskin, the lawyer for former Bush advisor Karl Rove, told Raw Story he had "no comment" on Leahy's truth commission proposal earlier this month.

Obama's CIA director, Leon Panetta, announced to a Senate hearing earlier this month that the Obama administration would not prosecute CIA officers who participated in harsh interrogations that critics say constituted torture.

Asked by The Associated Press if that was official policy, Panetta said, "That is the case."

Panetta's statements, however, don't rule out disciplinary action -- or a hearing -- by the Senate.

March 'middle ground' hearing will probe for Bush admin abuses
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