- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy’s pursuit of a “truth commission” to expose possible Bush administration abuses became a lonely quest Wednesday as fellow senators skipped a hearing for more compelling events elsewhere at the Capitol.

The Vermont Democrat, who is pressing for the inquest despite discouragement from President Obama, found himself sitting alone on the dais several times as most of the other 18 committee members went to attend British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s speech to a joint session of Congress.

Mr. Obama has been cool to the idea of investigating the Bush administration’s conduct in the war on terror, saying the country needed to look forward not backward.

The nonpartisan commission would investigate the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism programs, treatment of terrorism suspect detainees and use of electronic eavesdropping inside the U.S. The probe could also extend to matters such as Iraq prewar intelligence and possible misdeeds by the Defense and Justice departments.

“Nothing has done more to damage America’s place in the world than the revelation that this nation stretched the law and the bounds of executive power to authorize torture and cruel treatment,” Mr. Leahy said. “The Bush administration chose this course but tried to keep its policies and actions secret, knowing that they could not withstand scrutiny in the light of day.”

Mr. Leahy has described the commission, which he said would have subpoena power buy not levy criminal charges, as modeled after the one that rooted out atrocities by South Africa’s apartheid regime.

As the sole committee member present, Mr. Leahy listened intently as former Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering began his testimony in support of an inquest he said would scrub clean the United State’s image sullied by the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility and the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

“It is essential to have a full understanding of what happened, why, and the consequences of those actions in order to chart the right course for the future,” said Mr. Pickering, whose career as a U.S. diplomat spanned five decades with ambassadorships in six countries.

A dozen demonstrators dressed in orange jumpsuits who demanded the immediate closure of Guantanamo Bay detention facility watched the proceedings from the spectator gallery.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the committee, said that the change of administration had rendered a “truth commission” to be unnecessary.

“You could look in the front door, ask for directions to the relevant filing cabinet, go in and open the drawer, and find out anything you wanted to know,” he said in an opening statement. “Well, that’s been done. … They’re all being exposed now. They are, in fact, being exposed.”

Mr. Leahy said he planned to “build support” in upcoming meetings with Mr. Obama and Senate Democratic leaders.

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