- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2009

SENATE

Leahy still seeks ‘truth commission’

Despite a tepid reception from the Obama administration, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said Wednesday he will hold a hearing March 4 on setting up a “truth commission” to investigate Bush administration policies adopted to fight the post-9/11 war on terror.

Mr. Leahy, who first floated the idea earlier this month, said the commission would be modeled on panels such as the one established in South Africa to bring to light excesses of the apartheid era. Critics say the truth commission could be used to target top officials of the Bush administration and criminalize differences of policy in fighting terrorism.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Mr. Leahy said he had preliminary talks with other lawmakers, outside experts and members of the Obama administration on how to establish the body. He said the nonpartisan panel would focus on charges the Bush administration authorized torture, destroyed evidence of wrongdoing and misled Congress about its counterterrorism policies.

At his first press conference earlier this month, Mr. Obama stopped well short of endorsing the commission idea.

“I will take a look at Senator Leahy’s proposal, but my general orientation is to say, ‘Let’s get it right moving forward,’ ” Mr. Obama said.

CIA

Panetta promises limited renditions

President Obama will limit the countries to which it sends suspected terrorists to those with clean human rights records to help make sure they are not tortured or abused, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said Wednesday.

Mr. Panetta also indicated at his first on-the-record meeting with reporters that Mr. Obama is less inclined to hand prisoners over to other countries.

“If it’s someone we are interested in, there is no purpose to rendering anyone, particularly if it’s a high-value target,” he said.

Mr. Panetta said he thinks prisoners should only be handed over to countries that would have a legal interest in them - their home country or one where a prisoner has charges pending.

Mr. Panetta made headlines during his confirmation hearings earlier this month when he said Mr. Obama intended to continue rendering prisoners captured in the war on terrorism.

He said Mr. Obama would only hand them over with assurances that the prisoners would not be tortured. That has long been U.S. policy, but some former prisoners contend they were tortured.

CUBA

House relaxes Cuba restrictions

U.S. restrictions on trade with Cuba and family travel to the island would be eased under legislation passed by the House on Wednesday, but the changes could encounter trouble in the Senate.

Supporters hope congressional action will be the first step toward reviewing and possibly reversing the decades-old U.S. policy of shunning Cuba. Tucked into a larger spending bill, most of the changes would expire Sept. 30 unless there is a move to extend them by Congress or President Obama.

Mr. Obama has made clear he favors relaxing limits on family travel and cash remittances by Cuban-Americans to Cuba, although he has said the U.S. trade embargo against that country should stay in place to press for democratic reforms.

The legislation approved by the House does not lift the overall embargo.

CLIMATE

Climate lobbyists flock to Capitol

The number of lobbyists locked in battle over climate-change legislation has quadrupled in the past five years, a government watchdog said Wednesday.

At least 770 businesses and interest groups hired about 2,340 lobbyists to represent their causes last year, including the clean-coal lobbying group, which spent $10 million on its campaign, according to a report issued by the Center for Public Integrity.

“This new report shows clearly how much money is pouring into Washington on the issue of climate change,” said Bill Buzenberg, the center’s executive director.

“What’s also clear is how difficult it will be for the Obama administration to get meaningful climate-change legislation through Congress in the face of such an enormous lobbying push by so many special interests.”

VOTE

House rewards lobbyist’s clients

The House decided Wednesday to spend $8.8 million on projects sought by 11 businesses and educational institutions represented by a lobbying firm the FBI raided three months ago.

The money was in a $410 billion spending bill that covers a dozen Cabinet departments.

House members use such projects, or earmarks, to direct money to a particular government contractor or business in their district.

In November, FBI searched the lobbying firm PMA Group and the residence of its founder, Paul Magliocchetti, who once worked for the House Appropriations’ defense subcommittee. PMA plans to go out of business by the end of March.

Two people, including a lawyer familiar with the raids, said the Justice Department’s fraud section is overseeing an investigation into whether PMA reimbursed some employees for campaign contributions to members of Congress who requested the projects.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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