Leahy Backs Commission to Investigate Bush-Era Abuses

February 9, 2009 8:53 a.m.

Back in January, TPM crowned its first Sleeper Bill of the Month, praising a proposal by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) that would set up an independent panel — with subpoena power — to probe civil liberties and human rights abuses committed during the Bush years.

The measure has yet to receive a hearing, but it’s slowly amassing support from connected Democratic lawmakers, with the biggest breakthrough coming about an hour ago. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), in a speech at Georgetown University, endorsed the creation of an independent “truth and reconciliation” commission. Here’s what Leahy said:

We need to get to the bottom of what happened — and why — so we make sure it never happens again.

One path to that goal would be a reconciliation process and truth commission. We could develop and authorize a person or group of people universally recognized as fair minded, and without axes to grind. Their straightforward mission would be to find the truth. People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts. If needed, such a process could involve subpoena powers, and even the authority to obtain immunity from prosecutions in order to get to the whole truth.

We’ve asked Leahy’s office whether he plans to submit a Senate version of Conyers’ bill, which would set an initial commission budget of $3 million — a small price to pay for a little accountability.

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