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Leahy’s Truth Commission Idea Gaining Steam

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has really started something.

He reportedly brought his idea for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the White House Tuesday, talking with President Obama’s new White House Counsel Greg Craig about the proposal. “I went over some of the parameters of it and they were well aware at the White House of what I’m talking about,” Leahy [told The Huffington Post]("I went over some of the parameters of it and they were well aware at the White House of what I'm talking about," Leahy told the Huffington Post. "And we just agreed to talk further."). “And we just agreed to talk further.”

Major legal advocacy groups today chimed in with their support for a truth commission, too, including The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School and Human Rights First, both stacked with prominent Democratic lawyers who supported Obama for the presidency.

So is it likely to happen?

Maybe. As I reported earlier, prosecutions are looking less and less likely, especially as the statute of limitations on many of the Bush administration’s most egregious crimes, including the torture, humiliation and abuse of prisoners, rapidly runs out.

But a bipartisan, independent, investigatory commission, along the lines of the 9/11 or Church commission — or even South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission — can be a pretty watered-down alternative; they don’t usually lead to criminal prosecutions, even if they’re warranted. On MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” Tuesday night, George Washington Law professor Jonathan Turley called the idea “shameful,” saying it would ultimately protect war criminals from accountability.

That may be true. But as Scott Horton pointed out when proposing a similar idea in Harper’s back in November, it would offer one real advantage for President Obama: major political cover.

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