Leahy Would Investigate Democrats, Too

Created: February 22, 2009 12:10 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

In The New York Times’ Sunday piece on the “Truth Commission” proposed by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) , which I wrote about last week, reporter Scott Shane notes that during an interview, Leahy said that any commission investigating abuse of detainees under the Bush administration should also investigate the role of Democrats in Congress who approved of the Bush policies.

While such investigations would be key to the legitimacy of any such commission, they may also be what dooms the idea from the start.

Despite the growing number of congressional Democrats who have come out in support of some sort of commission to investigate alleged Bush administration lawbreaking over the last eight years, it’s notable, though perhaps not surprising , that none of the Democrats who reportedly [were briefed](The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan). ) on the CIA’s abusive interrogation policies — including waterboarding — have signed on to Rep. John Conyers’  (D-Mich.) proposed legislation to investigate the Bush administration and Congress, or made any public statements favoring Leahy’s proposal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who acknowledges she was briefed on CIA tactics, recently grabbed headlines when she told Rolling Stone that she forsees prosecutions of Bush administration officials. However, she went on to specify that she’s interested in prosecuting former Bush administration officials  such as White House Counsel Harriet Miers, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and adviser Karl Rove for defying Congressional subpoenas — but not former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo or others for devising and approving policies that encouraged the torture and abuse of terror suspects. Pelosi also said she wants an investigation into the politicization of the Justice Department. But she has never publicly supported, so far as I can tell, an investigation into the legality of the Bush administration’s abuse, torture and humiliation of detainees. (Glenn Greenwald at Salon has done a thorough job tracking various Democrats’ knowledge and potential complicity in those tactics.)

When I asked Pelosi’s office a few weeks ago whether her early knowledge and apparent approval of the CIA’s tactics would affect whether she would support an investigation now, the only response I received was the following statement that she gave The Washington Post in December:

On one occasion, in the fall of 2002, I was briefed on interrogation techniques the Administration was considering using in the future. The Administration advised that legal counsel for the both the CIA and the Department of Justice had concluded that the techniques were legal.

I had no further briefings on the techniques. Several months later, my successor as Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, was briefed more extensively and advised the techniques had in fact been employed. It was my understanding at that time that Congresswoman Harman filed a letter in early 2003 to the CIA to protest the use of such techniques, a protest with which I concurred.

If that was the full extent of their knowledge, then neither Pelosi nor Harman should have much to fear from an investigation.

So if they were so concerned at the time that they protested, why aren’t they supporting Conyers’ bill to investigate now?

As I wrote last week in reviewing the death of a previous proposal for a commission back in 2005, any investigatory commission — whether a “truth commission” that would dole out immunities or an investigatory commission that could lead to prosecutions — would likely need not only the full support of Democrats, but the support of some Republicans as well (most notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).  But getting the Democrats in Congress to agree to look back at what really happened and acknowledge the roles of everyone involved is a critical first step.