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Leahy Urges Use of Truth & Reconciliation Commission to Investigate Bush

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Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) today said it may be a good idea to set up a truth and reconciliation commission as a way to determine how best to handle the Constitutional transgressions of the Bush Administration.

Leahy suggested the concept during a speech today at his alma mater, Georgetown University, where he outlined the committee's agenda for the 111th Congress.

Leahy sees this effort as a compromise between political factions who would like to see former Pres. George W. Bush and members of his administration prosecuted and those who want incoming Attorney General Eric Holder to promise to hold them harmless for their misdeeds.

Recently, more information has surfaced that the Bush administration was tapping the phones of prominent journalists and news agencies, as well as those of individual citizens and soldiers.

According to a prepared text of his speech, Leahy floated the idea of "a middle ground to find the truth.  We need to get to the bottom of what happened — and why — so we make sure it never happens again."

He then went on to lay out how that could happen.

"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. Congress has already granted immunity, over my objection, to those who facilitated warrantless wiretaps and those who conducted cruel interrogations. It would be far better to use that authority to learn the truth."

Leahy said the United States has been divided as deeply as it has been at any time in our history since the Civil War. 

"It has made our government less productive and our society less civil.  President Obama is right that we cannot afford extreme partisanship and debilitating divisions," Leahy noted.

Still, Leahy urged that rushing headlong with partisan congressional investigations may only serve to obscure investigators from getting to the full truth.

"Rather than vengeance, we need a fair-minded pursuit of what actually happened. Sometimes the best way to move forward is getting to the truth, finding out what happened, so we can make sure it does not happen again," Leahy said. "When I came to the Senate, the Church Committee was working to expose the excesses of an earlier era. Its work helped ensure that in years to come, we did not repeat the mistakes of the past.  e need to think about whether we have arrived at such a time, again. We need to come to a shared understanding of the failures of the recent past."

Leahy said he was willing to determine if there is interest in pursuing such a route — both in Congress and the new administration. 

"We would need to work through concerns about classified information and claims of executive privilege.  Most of all, we need to see whether the American people are ready to take this path," Leahy said.

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