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Truth Commission on the Bush Administration

02/24/09 12:00PM By Jane Lindholm
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Senator Patrick Leahy made waves this month when he suggested that a "Truth Commission" should be formed to examine some policies of the Bush presidency. Leahy says some members of the Bush administration were willing to "trade away the people's rights as if they were written in sand" in the name of national security. Congressional inquiries into potential abuses of power aren't new, but critics question the value of the proceedings and often dismiss them as political theater. What could be gained from a Truth Commission on the Bush years, and what would Congress do with the information? Middlebury College political science professor Matthew Dickinson examines the how commissions like the one Leahy proposes reflect the balance of power between two branches of government. (Listen)

Also in the program, governors and legislatures across the country have been determining what the federal stimulus package will bring to their respective states. Political reporter John Gregg of the Valley News digs into New Hampshire's share of the state aid package. (Listen)

 

Listener comments:

 

Conor in Washington DC:
President Bush will certainly go down in history as a controversial leader, but I was wondering if you might put Senator Leahy's proposal for a Truth and Reconciliation Committee in historical perspective. Do you think Leahy's calls for this commission are the result of extraordinary abuses of power on the part of President Bush or rather, does Leahy's proposal reflect larger trends at work - such as the weakening of the Presidency relative to Congress in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era?

Jack in Shelburne:
While the Bush administration is destined to hold a place in history as deplorable and bankrupt of values for which this country stands, the truth we should be seeking is why the checks and balances of our three branches of government failed to keep the president in check. Spending more time on the voluminous lies, legal and ethical violations serves only the needs of those keeping political scorecards. Why our system and legislators failed is more important than knowing more about Bush failings.

Ray in Bakersfield:
I'm not sure the current executive administration or a large number of legislators of both parties look forward to a 'constitutional crisis' over the separation of powers. Does congress really want to chance the Supreme
Court ruling that they have no power over the executive branch?

Peggy in Craftsbury:
Senator Leahy's Truth Commission idea is, I believe, an inauthentic effort to show that Democrats want to be "on record" as proponents of truth. In truth, Sen. Leahy would have truly upheld his own oath of office had he declared his support for impeachment hearings in the House, when consequential action could have begun. Sen. Leahy has failed to "protect and defend" the U.S. Constitution, by having countenanced Bush Administration actions which clearly were questionable regarding their constitutionality.

Stepp in Rupert:
I think we should know about the politicization of the Justice Department, which is in fact against the law. If no one knows how or why that happened, and no one is punished because they left an agency before they got found out, then it is likely to happen again. I also think Harriet Miers and [Karl Rove] cannot just tell Congress that they're not going to show up when subpoenaed. We have three equal parts of government and that includes the Congress. They should be arrested for contempt!

Ray in Johnson:
I am outraged by many practices of the Bush dministration, especially when it came to issues regarding civil liberties. The Bush administration put in place a process that enabled agencies of the executive branch of the government to apparently circumvent laws specifically designed to protect the rights of American citizens. We should be combating terrorists and terrorist organizations with every tool at the disposal of the government. But government must follow the law, and those who break the law in this country are supposed to be held accountable, even the government. It appears that the administration knew what the law was, and instead of trying to change the law, it was simply ignored. The freedoms that we now enjoy have been too hard won for us to allow them to be whittled away. Some have identified this as an issue from the Left, but isn't the right also supposed to be concerned about individual liberties and a restrained role for government?

Tim in Stowe:
In regard to Sen. Leahy's call for a Truth Commission: it's possible our long serving senator has spent too much time on the set of Batman. He needs to be reminded that our president has suggested we move on. A tougher challenge lays ahead with respect to our economic and political security. We should also remind our leftist brother and sisters of the Green Mountains, that unless you were witness first hand to the horrors of 9/11 or have personal connection to the thousands that died that day and since, we are at war. Before the USS Cole was attacked, a Fatwa was issued by the Islamic extremists. They will continue to come to kill us. President Obama's hero Abraham Lincoln discovered that in war the powers of the presidency require extreme measures to preserve the Union. A lesson that was not lost by the previous administration and won't be forgotten by the current one.

Philip in Essex Junction:
I would like to refer everyone listening to this program to check out Bill Moyers interview "Tough Talk on Impeachment" of July 13, 2007 with Bruce Fein and John Nichols. It seems clear that the Bush administration had often operated with complete disregard to the constitutional powers of the executive branch on many occasions, and that needs to be addressed. We cannot allow this to ever happen again. We need the truth and we need accountability.

Fred in Windsor:
I am independent and try to reason why we do what we do. One of these is to try and reason why this all happened? The Arab world didn't wake up one day and decide to hate America, and it's not because we are free. So we need to try and find that reason, why? Then we will all understand.

Don:
No! A prosecution. The constitution requires it. The entire junta should be required to appear before the bar of justice.

Martin in East Middlebury:
Senator Leahy wants to ensure that his investigations are a defining moment in the American constitutional system. Still, we saw how the Presidency can outflank the other branches of Constitutional government in national security
crises. So what remedies will this process actually supply?

Brendan in Middlesex:
Senator Leahy is far from a leftist radical.  Clearly we were deceived by the Bush administration.  George Bush abused the power of the presidency.  I don’t think this is really questioned by a very large proportion of the American people or even by many people in the military.  The questions are: (1) How severe was the deception and what were the results? (2) Why were we deceived and what could justify such a campaign of deception?  (3) How can the American people insure that such violations of trust do not occur in the future?  (4) When the senior-most officer in the executive branch of the U.S. government is found to have committed an offense that would be treason if it were committed by any other citizen is it still treason or should he be exempted from prosecution?

Bush lied and a great many people died, millions are refugees, and a generation of a country has been irreparably harmed.  As responsible citizens we must not sweep this under the rug.  We the people are accountable.  We must reveal the truth so future generations can learn from our mistakes.

Carol in Chelsea:
I agree with President Obama that we need to move on, in much the same way MoveOn.Org was founded to "move on" from the investigations of Bill Clinton. There is simply no way that such an investigation, in whatever form, will be nonpartisan. What looks like a crime to you looks like a policy difference to me. Recently I wrote the following letter to my local paper opposing the truth commission idea:

I am appalled that Senator Leahy so completely misunderstands the nature of the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa, after which he says he is modeling this investigation. The South African truth and reconciliation process encouraged both sides to come forward voluntarily (not coerced by subpoenas) and acknowledge abusive behavior - both suffered and committed - and then to reconcile in a mindset of "never again."

The key element here is the two-sided nature of the process. A commission to investigate Bush-Cheney administration abuses is by definition not two-sided and not fair-minded, as Leahy claims, and not likely to result in reconciliation. It will be an expensive one-sided investigation of one political party by the other, as was the case in the investigation of Bill Clinton's behavior when he was in the White House. If enacted, such a commission will set a precedent that will most assuredly, either four or eight years from now, result in a Republican commission to investigate Obama, on whatever basis the GOP happens to fault his performance as president.

Haven't we had enough of this? If you agree with me that we need less, not more, partisan blaming, I encourage you to send a clear message to Senator Leahy. Whether you are Republican, Democrat or neither, ask him to follow President Obama's lead and move forward in the interest of the country, not backwards toward vengeance.

Bruce Marshall in Rochester writes, in part:
As part of my 2006 run on the Green Party of Vermont ballot line for Congress, peace through impeachment and the investigation of Bush and Cheney were always an active part of my political effort, shared I must say across Vermont in Town Meeting and Statehouse votes, passed in the State Senate....

What would have been nice, for us as active citizens, would have been support from Senator Leahy on this issue while Bush was in office, not now when he can do no harm. Senator Leahy could have started to stop Bush back in the fall of 2001, after 9/11, but the anthrax letters calling cards seem to have done their job in keeping Leahy quiet, except crumbs to keep the left mollified.

While I of course welcome even a post facto Truth Commission on Bush, I would say that part of that investigation would have to include a "Truth Commission on Congressional Misprision of Treason" on allowing Bush to get away with treasonous crimes, begining with the immediate cover up of that crime with the preemptive scapegoating of Al Qaida to star the 'War on Terror'.

Thus for any honest effort at finding the Truth will require investigating Senator Leahy, if there is to be a truely objective understanding, one that seeks to prevent such crimes from happening again....

 

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Matthew Dickinson's blog on the presidency
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