Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pursuing the Truth

Maybe I'm not the forgiving type especially when it comes to things like wiretapping, torture, wars based on flawed intelligence, and the politicization of the Justice Department. So why am I finding myself against this thing Senator Leahy calls a Truth Commission? For the same reason four 9/11 widows are against it:

Dear Senator Leahy,

We felt compelled to write to you regarding your recent call for the formation of a "Truth Commission." According to your press comments, this Commission is supposed to look at the following:

* the politicization of prosecution in the Justice Department
* the wiretapping of U.S. citizens
* the flawed intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq
* the use of torture at Guantanamo and so-called black sites abroad

These are serious allegations of criminal activity by certain members of the Bush Administration. While we applaud your initiative in looking into these matters, we feel this approach is wrong.

As the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, you already have the responsibility and legal authority to investigate matters relating to federal criminal law without having to form a special commission. You are also bound by your oath of office to support and uphold the Constitution by ensuring that those who govern also abide by the rule of law.

Furthermore, a "Truth Commission" will not fix the real problems that our country faces, nor will it guarantee that we will get to the truth. The 9/11 Commission, which you want to model your commission after, is a perfect example of that flawed process.

The 9/11 Commission was mandated to follow the facts surrounding the events of September 11, 2001 to wherever they might lead and make national security recommendations based upon those facts. Sadly, prior to even beginning their investigation, like you, the 9/11 Commissioners agreed amongst themselves that their role was to fact find, not fault find.

This decision resulted in individuals not being held accountable for their specific failures. These people were shown to be incompetent in the 9/11 Commission's Final Report but were left in their positions, or worse, promoted. No one should be allowed to make this compromise on behalf of the American people. How can any agency be deemed fixed or reformed if the people working there are inept? How can anyone feel safer?

At the 9/11 Commission hearings, little actual evidence was ever produced. Many individuals were not sworn in, critical witnesses were either not called to testify or were permitted to dictate the parameters of their own questioning, pertinent questions were omitted and there was little follow-up. Whistleblower testimony was suppressed or avoided all together. The National Security Agency, an intelligence agency that is responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign intelligence, was barely investigated at all.

With the narrative of the 9/11 Commission's final report predetermined and with the preexisting intention to never hold anyone accountable in place, the 9/11 Commission was doomed to fail as a real investigation. The end result of the 9/11 Commission's work was that some of the recommendations that they produced were in fact, based on distortions and omissions. Since their mandate of a complete accounting was ignored, the recommendations were incomplete at best.

There was clearly no desire on the part of Congress to force the Commission to meet its legislative mandate. Accordingly, there were no repercussions for the fact that the investigation and its recommendations were incomplete. It could be surmised that holding no one accountable was more important than uncovering and disclosing the truth. This could compromise the future safety of American citizens. Why then would you want to model another Commission after it? Why would you want another Commission at all?

Senator Leahy, in light of the fact that the 9/11 Commission's worst offense was not fully investigating the September 11th attacks, completing that investigation should also be included on your list of matters to be examined.

America's founding fathers, prescient in their fears of unrestrained power, created three separate but equal branches of government. They had hoped to maintain and enforce the limits of the Executive Branch.

The Bush Administration was allowed to circumvent too many Constitutional restrictions effectively undermining America's system of justice, our nation's integrity and commitment to the rule of law. The Bush Administration's seizing of power proves the adage that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

The days of no fault government must end; and where there is clear criminal activity, people must be prosecuted. The law must be upheld without exception before we can be assured of the safety of the nation. These duties cannot be ignored for the sake of expediency.

Senator Leahy, our nation needs you to investigate and, if warranted, refer the cases for criminal prosecution in transparent trials. We do not need another meaningless commission resulting in no accountability at the taxpayers' expense. Show all Americans that you have the courage to uphold the law, bring accountability to those who abuse their positions of power and prevent such abuses from happening again.

The November 2008 elections proved that Americans want the rule of law restored for those in Washington who are elected to represent us. You, Senator Leahy, are in the position to lead the way and work toward the change we were promised.


September 11th Advocates
Patty Casazza
Monica Gabrielle
Mindy Kleinberg
Lorie Van Auken

They make a strong case that a commission is simply the wrong approach. And although Senator Leahy claims any truth commission grant of immunity would be very limited and in consultation with the Justice Department, some lawyers still see the commission as a profoundly bad idea and an inappropriate substitute for criminal prosecution.

Take a look at these recently released Bush era memos from the Office of Legal Counsel. Their flawed conclusion is that the president's powers over military and captured combatants -- including U.S. citizens -- is absolute. Yep, according to John Yoo, if the president decided that a U.S. citizen was an “enemy combatant,” he or she could be imprisoned indefinitely.

More secret memos are likely to surface. The New York Times spoke with officials who believe there exists one memo from the fall of 2001 justifying the National Security Agency’s program of domestic surveillance without warrants and one from the summer of 2002 that listed specific harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding.

How is it that a president and the Justice Department can go around making these secret rulings with no input from the other branches of government? Does this mean any president can create his own legal bubble, and then withdraw the flawed opinions 5 days before leaving office? Is it a game?

And how can this Justice Department handle a prosecution of Bush officials when 50 prosecutors who served under Bush still remain?

Despite all of President Obama's talk about looking forward, I just want to reiterate that I, for one, am still looking forward to seeing Cheney behind bars.

1 comment:

danps said...

Thanks for the link Kristen. I've posted this on my site in response to your comment about the conflict of interest for the Justice Department.

Off the top of my head I'd say the following:

1. Identify & exclude anyone in Justice with an obvious conflict of interest.
2. Give preference to career appointees (not political ones), ideally ones who started prior to Bush.
3. Make the results of the investigation public so any attempts at whitewashing are as exposed as possible.

Nothing is perfect of course, and having Justice investigate Justice is very risky. Groups don't generally police themselves very well. Maybe a special prosecutor is the better way to go, or maybe putting some rules behind the investigation (like those above) would minimize the chances that it would be improperly handled.