Bipartisan Congressional support for a special commission of inquiry to look into criminal misconduct by Bush Administration officials continues to build this week. Salon’s Mark Benjamin reports:
Spearheading Senate efforts to establish a torture commission is Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. As a member of both the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee, Whitehouse is privy to information about interrogations he can’t yet share. Still, regarding a potential torture commission, he told Salon, “I am convinced it is going to happen.” In fact, his fervor on the issue was palpable. When asked if there is a lot the public still does not know about these issues during the Bush administration, his eyes grew large and he nodded slowly. “Stay on this,” he said. “This is going to be big.”
Whitehouse admitted he had not discussed the plan yet with President Obama, who has been notably wishy-washy on the notion since taking office. On the one hand, Obama has consistently said that “my administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture.” Yet on the other hand, he has insisted that “nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen; but that generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.”
Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse announced yesterday their intention to hold hearings next week on the concept.
In a statement delivered on the Senate Floor today, Leahy said the hearing entitled “Getting to the Truth Through a Nonpartisan Commission of Inquiry” will be held at 10 a.m. and will be webcast live online. “We cannot be afraid to understand what we have done if we are to remain a Nation equally vigilant in defending both our national security and our Constitution,” Leahy said in a prepared statement. “I hope all members of Congress will give serious consideration to these difficult questions.”
In the meantime, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her strong support for an accountability commission and her expectation that criminal prosecutions would follow. In an extended interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Pelosi sharply criticized suggestions that blanket immunity be granted to those who come forward to testify. Pelosi also responds pointedly to accusations that she was briefed about torture and acquiesced to the Bush program.