Investigating the Bush Years

By Dan Froomkin
1:09 PM ET, 02/17/2009

Could the Bushies be getting scared of the Democratic push in Congress to establish some sort of truth commission to investigate Bush administration misdeeds?

Ali Frick wrote for Thinkprogress.org last week about how former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen told Fox News's Bill O'Reilly that not only would such investigations be hypocritical, "but worse, they would be 'terribly dangerous' because they would expose the 'facts' of the U.S.'s interrogation techniques to Osama bin Laden....

"He also emphasized that the people [a commission] might investigate 'aren't torturers, they're heroes....They should be getting a parade on Pennsylvania Avenue.'"

(For more about Thiessen, read my January 28 post, The Unsupportable Defense of the Indefensible.)

And this morning, dependable Bush administration apologists David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey write in a Washington Post op-ed that establishing a truth commission "is a profoundly bad idea -- for policy and, depending on how such a commission were organized and operated, for legal and constitutional reasons."

The USA Today editorial board writes: "The U.S. faces huge difficulties in rescuing the economy, controlling its exploding debt, fighting two wars and fixing other pressing problems. A long, wide-open investigation into all the alleged misdeeds of the past eight years would be a divisive distraction."

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, whose proposal calls for a bipartisan nine-member commission with subpoena power, responds: "By assigning this review to an independent body, we would ensure that its work is done in a professional and non-political manner, and that President Obama and the Congress will be free to focus their energies on the serious national challenges before us....

"The precise form and scope of this effort is open to discussion and compromise, but what is not an option is to do nothing. The matters at hand are too grave and our national honor is too precious to move forward without fully accounting for what has been done in America's name."

Meanwhile, Kevin Sullivan writes for The Washington Post: "An international group of judges and lawyers is warning that systemic torture and other abuses in the global 'war on terror' have 'undermined cherished values' of civil rights in the United States, Britain and other nations.

"'We have been shocked by the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counterterrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world,' said Arthur Chaskalson, a member of the International Commission of Jurists, in a statement announcing results of a three-year study of counterterrorism measures since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

Michael Isikoff wrote for Newsweek on Saturday: "An internal Justice Department report on the conduct of senior lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials. H. Marshall Jarrett, chief of the department's ethics watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), confirmed last year he was investigating whether the legal advice in crucial interrogation memos 'was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.' According to two knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. It sharply criticized the legal work of two former top officials — Jay Bybee and John Yoo — as well as that of Steven Bradbury, who was chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the time the report was submitted, the sources said. (Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

"But then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, strongly objected to the draft, according to the sources. Filip wanted the report to include responses from all three principals, said one of the sources, a former top Bush administration lawyer. (Mukasey could not be reached; his former chief of staff did not respond to requests for comment. Filip also did not return a phone message.) OPR is now seeking to include the responses before a final version is presented to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. 'The matter is under review,' said Justice spokesman Matthew Miller....

"OPR investigators focused on whether the memo's authors deliberately slanted their legal advice to provide the White House with the conclusions it wanted, according to three former Bush lawyers who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing probe. One of the lawyers said he was stunned to discover how much material the investigators had gathered, including internal e-mails and multiple drafts that allowed OPR to reconstruct how the memos were crafted. In a departure from the norm, Jarrett also told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year he would inform them of his findings and would 'consider' releasing a public version. If he does, it could be the most revealing public glimpse yet at how some of the major decisions of Bush-era counterterrorism policy were made."

Carrie Johnson writes in today's Washington Post: "Two Senate Democrats urged the Justice Department yesterday to quickly release its findings of an ethics investigation into legal opinions under President George W. Bush that paved the way for waterboarding prisoners and other harsh interrogation practices.

"Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) are demanding an update on the probe by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which for more than a year has been examining whether the lawyers who prepared the memos followed professional standards."

And on the New York Times Web site, Tobin Harshaw offers excerpts from blogosphere debates about the truth commission proposal, state secrets and renditions.

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