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Investigating the Bush Years

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 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.

By Dan Froomkin  |  February 17, 2009; 1:09 PM ET
Categories:  Looking Backward  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Cheney, Libby and Rove
Next: Obama and the GOP


Politicians are like gangsters, they cover for their own. There will be investigations but their findings will be 'inconclusive'. The war criminals will go free and the next time an election is stolen by a Republican, America will be no more.

Posted by: davidbn27 | February 17, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

The one problem with the 'truth commission' is that it specifically ignores our responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions. If torture occurred, and we've admitted it did, then we *must* prosecute no matter how big or how small the person who engaged in the activity is. Just following orders is not an excuse under the Geneva Conventions.

It's not politically nice, but it's a binding contract to which we have agreed. To 'correct' the abuses of the Bush terms by going back on our commitments is fixing a wrong with another wrong.

Posted by: rpixley220 | February 17, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

John Conyers: "...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."

Hear, hear, sir. Those who would rather move on or who belittle such a Commission are nothing more than Washington insiders talking to one another, which is always at odds with what the rest of the country thinks or wants.

Posted by: JCinCT | February 17, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Rivkin and Casey seem to be worried about a Truth Commission going beyond an advisory capacity and opening up an Pandora's box of unintended consequences. They also assert that the Justice Department has the primary responsibility for bringing criminal charges, not the commission. I see no conflicts in the Justice Department, based on advisory conclusions, pursuing more agressive, fact finding investigations that would lead to holding former Bush administration officials culpable for lack of compliance with legal and executive orders. Frankly, what is their problem?

Posted by: MillPond2 | February 17, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

My point was simply that Truth Commissions aren't enough, actual prosecutions need to be undertaken when the evidence warrants it.

They can't absolve people of their (and our) liabilities under the Geneva Convention.

It's like accepting $15 when you are really owed $30. That's not justice; it's coddling the person who owed you the money. Its easier, but not 'just'.

Posted by: rpixley220 | February 17, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Yet another area in which Washington politicians and a large percentage of the national pundits are living in a parallel universe from the rest of the United States. There is a *huge* majority of people nationwide who want wrongdoing during the Bush years to be investigated; the inside-the-beltway crowd, not so much.

Posted by: dougom | February 17, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

I love Orwellian naming such as "Office of Professional Responsibility" which was used to implement the opposite.

I'm not going to miss those I?

Posted by: boscobobb | February 17, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Working title:

"The Bush Legacy: Capital Murder"

A title that covers both economic and torture policies in the Bush administration.

Or by changing one vowel, and in keeping with the Bush administration's "unitary executive" theory of governance, it could be:

"The Bush Legacy: Capitol Murder"

Posted by: wizard2000 | February 18, 2009 12:31 AM | Report abuse

I'm strongly in favor of a truth commission or an independent prosecuter to investigate actions of the Bush administration. Then as now, GOP tends to blame the Clinton administration for 9/11 and subsequent actions. Yet, many from the Bush administration also fear what may be revealed by opening the books, so to speak. If we hold truth to be an ideal then we must find the truth and hold it up to the light. If no wrong was committed or the ends justified the means, then we the people need to know in order to preserve this nation. We have lost our moral high ground and many people outside the US (and within) have lost faith in this nation.

Posted by: sander | February 18, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

The Bush lawyers were surprised by howmuch information was gathered? No kidding? They probably thought (hoped) everything except the final draft was destroyed.

Posted by: m_mcmahon | February 18, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

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