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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Leahy has Truth Commissions on the Brain

I'm running really late today, so I'm going to stick you with a fairly short post. Sometimes we just can't get what we want. What I want is time to write my usual post in the neighborhood of 1,000 words, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. When you have enough time and you have enough resources, then you can get what you want and it's then that you should be able to make your best effort. You should be able to buckle in, get serious, and do some good work.

Someone ought to explain that to Pat Leahy.

Raw Story:

Pat LeahySen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says that -- rather than a criminal prosecution -- he would prefer to see a commission of inquiry into the growing controversy over the CIA misleading Congress and allegations that then-Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to withhold crucial information.


Leahy told CBS's Face the Nation that a commission of inquiry is preferable to criminal prosecution because "an inquiry would go into everything; a special prosecutor would be very narrowly focused.

"I just don't want to see an instance where if the higher-ups gave the order to break the law, that the ones who are punished are the lower-level front-line troops," Leahy said.

Leahy's answer to calls for an investigation into Bush torture policies is also a truth commission. It's starting to look like Leahy has truth commissions on the brain.

Of course, Leahy's argument is a lousy one. A special prosecutor may wind up charging "lower-level front-line troops," but Leahy didn't have a problem with that when the lower-level front-line troops were a guy named Scooter Libby. Much better that everyone get off scott-free than have one guilty person take the fall for other guilty people.

A truth commission is basically a third-world mechanism that really doesn't do anything other than accurately write history. It doesn't punish crime, it just recognizes it. We don't even know the full extent of either the torture program or Cheney's hit squads and Leahy's already offering the criminals -- if there are any -- a way out. It's frustratingly wrongheaded and, frankly, cowardly. Like any other work, justice can be approached one of two way -- the right way or the easy way. Leahy keeps proposing the easy way.

The right way comes to us from New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rush Holt.

Citing a "significant shift in the mood" of the electorate and elected officials, US Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) told the Newark Star-Ledger that there is now momentum for a full investigation into the CIA's unreported assassination program.

"Holt said he believes the investigation, which he also called a review, should be as intense and comprehensive as the probe conducted more than 30 years ago -- in the wake of the Watergate scandal -- by a special committee headed by U.S. Sen. Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat," the New Jersey newspaper reported.

In 1975 and 1976, the Church Committee investigated covert US intelligence activities, and uncovered numerous assassination plans, including ones targeting "Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam, Gen. René Schneider of Chile and President John F. Kennedy's plan to use the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro of Cuba," according to Wikipedia.

The investigations into covert activities are widely credited with bringing about the surveillance law reforms of the late 1970s, among them the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which created a court specifically to oversee matters of national security.

A bigger blockquote than I normally like, but as I say, I'm pressed for time. Holt's plan doesn't rule out prosecutions, while Leahy's specifically does -- that's the whole point of his idea. Leahy's truth commissions are suited to countries on the verge of collapse or civil war, when prosecuting everyone guilty of crime would put way too many people behind bars and risk renewing conflict. Using it to look into the crimes of a few corrupt politicians is ridiculous. Hyperbole aside, the Bush administration was not as bad for the US as apartheid was for South Africa. Investigating and prosecuting them wouldn't fill our prisons with ordinary citizens and it wouldn't result in gun battles in the streets. Hell, you could stick them all in Camp Cupcake and have room to spare -- although the Rod Serling in me wants them in Gitmo. Now there's ironic and poetic justice.

Pat Leahy may have some good ideas, but this addiction of his to truth commissions isn't among them. We can go full-scale or we can scale back for no good reason other than political difficulty. Leahy chooses the latter. We should choose the former.


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M said...

We have the foremost industrial prison complex in the world.

8 million Americans reside in our prison system.

Why isn't Dick Cheney one of them?

Truth commissions can be useful, right after criminal prosecutions.

Bonus for the Rod Serling reference! Love its context.

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