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Posted by on Mar 28, 2009 in Politics, War | 5 comments

While We Talk Truth Commissions, Others Target Bush Torture Lawyers in Criminal Probe

A few weeks ago, Patrick Leahy, six-term Democratic Senator from Vermont, a former prosecutor and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote an article in TIME titled “The Case for a Truth Commission.”

In it, the Senator discusses the abuses during the Bush administration years—such as the scandal at Abu Ghraib, the disclosure of torture memos and the revelations about the warrantless surveillance of Americans.

Leahy then asks, “So what is to be done about the abuses of the Bush years?”

He discusses two possibilities:

1. Doing nothing, “and a few Senators even tried to make Attorney General Eric Holder promise in his confirmation hearings to launch no prosecutions for Bush-era lawbreaking”

2. Prosecuting Bush administration officials, as “others say that even if it takes many years and divides the country and distracts from the urgent priority of fixing the economy, we must prosecute Bush Administration officials to lay down a marker.”

Leahy then discusses another option, one which he prefers: “[A] middle ground whose overarching goal is to find the truth: we need to get to the bottom of what happened–and why–to make sure it never happens again.”

How? Again, Leahy:

One path to that goal is to appoint a truth-finding panel. We could develop and authorize a person or group of people universally recognized as fair-minded and without an ax to grind. Their straightforward mission would be to find the truth. 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. If needed, such a process could involve subpoena powers and even the authority to obtain immunity from prosecution in order to get to the whole truth.


In the meantime, Congress will work with the Obama Administration to fix those parts of our government that went off course. But to repair the damage of the past eight years and restore America’s reputation and standing in the world, we should not simply turn the page without being able first to read it. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll showed that more than 60% of Americans agree that investigating the failed national-security policies of the past eight years should be considered.

In a letter to TIME (not published), I expressed my views on this issue:

I have to reluctantly agree with Senator Leahy that we should take the middle road “to find the truth.” Not because I believe, as the Senator does, that this will “make sure it never happens again,” because when justice is not served bad things will certainly happen again. I agree with him because I am a realist and, sadly, this “middle ground” may be the best we can hope for in our “political democracy.”

But while we are contemplating what should be done about the Bush era abuses, it appears that other countries are past the “contemplation” stage.

At least, according to an article, “Bush Torture Lawyers Targeted in Criminal Probe,” appearing today in Harper’s Magazine.

Harper’s reports:

One of America’s NATO allies—which supported the Bush Administration’s war on terror by committing its troops to the struggle–has now opened formal criminal inquiries looking into the Bush team’s legacy of torture. The action parallels a criminal probe into allegations of torture involving the American CIA that was opened this week in the United Kingdom


Spain’s national newspapers, El País and Público reported that the Spanish national security court has opened a criminal probe focusing on Bush Administration lawyers who pioneered the descent into torture at the prison in Guantánamo. The criminal complaint can be examined here. Público identifies the targets as University of California law professor John Yoo, former Department of Defense general counsel William J. Haynes II (now a lawyer working for Chevron), former vice presidential chief-of-staff David Addington, former attorney general and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, now a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.

To read more about these surprising developments, please click here.