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Senate Announces CIA Probe — Now What About Justice?

As TWI’s lightning-fast national security reporter Spencer Ackerman just wrote, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence just formally announced what we’ve known and been reporting on for weeks now: it will review the CIA’s detention and interrogation program during the Bush years.

That’s welcome news for all of us who’ve been eager to learn more about just what went on in the CIA and how it could have led to policies like “extraordinary rendition” — i.e., transfer to torture — and the now-notorious interrogation abuses at Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo Bay.

So now that there’s been a thorough review of Pentagon policies by the Senate Armed Services Committee (though its final report was never released publicly), and now there will be a critical review of what happened in the intelligence agencies. So where’s the Senate Judiciary Committee?

As I reported earlier today and yesterday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has been going around talking and holding hearings about the possibility of creating a broad bipartisan truth commission, one reminiscent of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or here in the United States, the 9/11 Commission. But as Leahy is rapidly learning, he’s facing mighty opposition — not only among Republicans but even among Democrats, few of whom bothered to even show up to his hearing yesterday to lend their support.

So why not just pull his own committee together to conduct an investigation of what happened at the Justice Department: who wrote what memos, at whose request, and what did they say? (Although as I’ve written before, some Office of Legal Counsel memos have been released, but many critical documents concerning detainee treatment have not.)

While the Bush administration was apparently misusing the Justice Department to carry out unlawful policies, Leahy — who chairs the Judiciary Committee — didn’t do very much to investigate. Sure, some questions came up during various confirmation hearings and when the committee questioned Inspector General Glenn Fine about his reports of politicized hiring at the Justice Department or the role of the FBI. But why no comprehensive hearings hauling in the former attorneys general and their staff, and OLC lawyers like John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Stephen Bradbury, to reconstruct how the torture and other abuse of detainees came to be legally-authorized U.S. policy?

Leahy presumably would have the power to obtain all those OLC memos still being withheld, and to get some concrete answers. Combine the outcome of that process with what Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) did with the Armed Services Committee and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) is now pursuing with the intelligence committee, and we could have some real answers — even if the far-reaching “truth commission” that Leahy proposed never wins enough support to get off the ground.

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