Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Leahy, Pelosi Differ on Bush Inquiry

By Jason Leopold
February 26, 2009

In one week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy says he will begin establishing a “commission of inquiry” to investigate the Bush administration’s use of torture and other abuses of power, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is objecting to his plan of granting immunity to some witnesses.

Read on.


Bob Locke said...

Thanks, Jason, for bringing us up to date--as you so often do on this issue and the Plame issue and the fired federal attorneys. It's all part of the same pattern of abuse of authority, each issue tied to the others and tied to secrecy and officials attempting to make sure that their criminal actions remain "above the law".

I hope that Pelosi (now that she has finally come aboard the justice train), Leahy and Levin will back up the most stringent measures that heroes Conyers and Waxman have been long pursuing.

Bravo for Sheldon's comments.

Obama is trying to walk the fence on this, but it's not good enough to simply assert as he did on Tuesday, "Americans do not torture."

That was always Bush's assertion, too, the exact same words, and we know those words to be utter lies. We know this for a fact.

It's not revenge; it's not partisanship; it's justice and accountability and the correction that we absolutely need in order to regain our standing not only in the world but in the eyes of our fellow citizens who do care about fairness and the American Way.

(And it would be good to find out for sure and have it publicly known how many terrible wild goose chases we conducted based upon untrue "intelligence" gained from torture. We know for sure that the whole Iraq debacle--all those deaths, dismemberments, homeless Americans as well as Iraqis, people's lives destroyed forever--was based not only upon outright lies but upon faulty "intelligence" gained through torture. People being tortured will say ANYTHING to stop the torture. And if you put words in their mouths, they'll back them up. We've seen that for sure.)
Bob Locke
Sacramento CA

knowbuddhau said...

I agree, Bob, great article.

If I may, I think it would be even stronger with the addition of this argument, as constructed by Glenn Greenwald: Advocates of foreclosing prosecution are blatantly ignoring our obligations under the highest laws of this land: treaties.

I support a Non-partisan investigation that, of course, leaves open prosecutions of torture, cruelty, perversion of the Justice Department, and any other crimes that come to light.


Do we still pretend that we abide by treaties?

[Emphasis original.]

The U.S. really has bound itself to a treaty called the Convention Against Torture, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1994. When there are credible allegations that government officials have participated or been complicit in torture, that Convention really does compel all signatories -- in language as clear as can be devised -- to "submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution" (Art. 7(1)). And the treaty explicitly bars the standard excuses that America's political class is currently offering for refusing to investigate and prosecute: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture" and "an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture" (Art. 2 (2-3)). By definition, then, the far less compelling excuses cited by Conason (a criminal probe would undermine bipartisanship and distract us from more important matters) are plainly barred as grounds for evading the Convention's obligations.

There is reasonable dispute about the scope of prosecutorial discretion permitted by the Convention, and there is also some lack of clarity about how many of these provisions were incorporated into domestic law when the Senate ratified the Convention with reservations. But what is absolutely clear beyond any doubt is that -- just as is true for any advance promises by the Obama DOJ not to investigate or prosecute -- issuing preemptive pardons to government torturers would be an unambiguous and blatant violation of our obligations under the Convention. There can't be any doubt about that. It just goes without saying that if the U.S. issued pardons or other forms of immunity to accused torturers (as the Military Commissions Act purported to do), that would be a clear violation of our obligation to "submit the [torture] case to [our] competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution." Those two acts -- the granting of immunity and submission for prosecution -- are opposites.

And yet those who advocate that we refrain from criminal investigations rarely even mention our obligations under the Convention. There isn't even a pretense of an effort to reconcile what they're advocating with the treaty obligations to which Ronald Reagan bound the U.S. in 1988. Do we now just explicitly consider ourselves immune from the treaties we signed? Does our political class now officially (rather than through its actions) consider treaties to be mere suggestions that we can violate at will without even pretending to have any justifications for doing so? Most of the time, our binding treaty obligations under the Convention -- as valid and binding as every other treaty -- don't even make it into the discussion about criminal investigations of Bush officials, let alone impose any limits on what we believe we can do.


For all three separate acts of alleged crimes, the option that receives the most support from Americans is criminal investigations (i.e., the exact opposite of what Conason wrote). And the percentage that favor that nothing be done is in every case less than the percentage that want criminal investigations, and the "do-nothing" percentage never reaches 40% or close to it (the highest it gets is 34% -- roughly the same minority of pro-Bush dead-enders that continue to support most of what was done).

As White notes, the breakdowns are even more revealing. For all three areas of lawbreaking, majorities of Democrats (which, by the way, is now the majority party) favor criminal investigations. For each of the three areas, more independents favor criminal prosecutions than favor doing nothing, and large majorities of independents -- ranging from 59% to 71% -- want either a criminal investigation or an independent fact-finding investigation. A Washington Post poll from a couple weeks ago found very similar results: majorities of Americans (and large majorities of Democrats) favor investigations into whether Bush officials broke the law and, by a wide margin, oppose the issuance of pardons to Bush officials.

Imagine what those numbers would be in a world where virtually every establishment political pundit -- literally: whether Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative -- weren't uniting together to oppose prosecutions for torture and war crimes. Even with that unified anti-prosecution stance from a trans-partisan rainbow of Beltway opinion-makers, criminal investigations remain the leading position among Americans generally and among majorities of Democrats specifically. Those are just facts.

sanda said...

"I don't want to embarrass anybody", said Sen. Leahy. What's that about?
We've all been embarrassed (the lightest word I can think of) for years, as well as outraged, by the torture, etc.

Pelosi finally said something I can approve of:no immunity.

I support the ACLU on this, as reported. I haven't heard the words "select committee" in a long time. Yes, to special prosecutor, also.

Bill from Saginaw said...

Yes, there are some rumblings in the right direction on restoring the rule of law in the areas of torture and warrantless wiretapping. Let the Congressional committees create the forum for whistleblowers to step forward, then stand back and let the federal grand jury process run its ordinary course.

It should also be mentioned that there were a couple of incredibly distressing moments in the recent Nancy Pelosi interview on the Rachel Maddow show.

First, Pelosi broke the news as gently as possible that the fix is in on ending the US military presence in Iraq. Somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 American troops will remain there after the war is declared to have ended, and our withdrawal has supposedly been completed.

Presumably, the people of Iraq will either not notice our soldiers' continued presence there, or else the Iraqis won't mind if we stay. The whole scenario is delusional. And the linguistic sleight of hand is an insult to the very voters who put Obama and Pelosi into their current positions of power.

Second, Nancy Pelosi looked Rachel straight in the eye and declared it was her understanding of the National Security Act's provisions governing Congressional oversight of classified information that she was forbidden - absolutely forbidden - to tell anybody anything if, during a classified briefing, somebody like Dick Cheney confided that mass murder or other obvious heinous crimes had taken place and were going to be repeated.

Imagine that. The Speaker of the House takes the official position that the executive branch can hold a classified briefing of Congressioal leaders, confess to criminal wrongdoing, and our elected representatives are duty bound to say nothing whatsoever to anybody - not their colleagues, their staff, nor their constituents - about the ongoing criminal conspiracy underway.

This is not Congressional oversight. This is cooptation of Congress into a bipartisan subversion of the Constitution.

And if this is what has been taking place for the last eight years, then small wonder high crimes in high places still go unpunished.

Bill from Saginaw

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