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Leahy Admits Truth Commission Idea is Dead

We’ve been speculating that Sen. Pat Leahy’s (D-Vt.) proposed truth commission to investigate alleged lawbreaking during the Bush administration may not be going anywhere, but now it seems Leahy is saying that himself.

Charlotte Dennett, a journalist and former candidate for Vermont attorney general, writes in Consortiumnews.com that in a meeting with Leahy on Monday, the senator admitted that his idea for a “Commission of Inquiry” is going nowhere fast.

“We had asked for the meeting to learn why he supported a truth commission over the appointment of a special prosecutor,” writes Dennett. “Halfway through the allotted 30 minute meeting (with him taking up much of the time explaining why he was not generally opposed to prosecution, since he had been a DA for eight years and had the highest conviction rate in Vermont), he told us that his truth commission had failed to get the broad support it needed in Congress, and since he couldn’t get one Republican to come behind the plan, ‘it’s not going to happen.’”

Officially, Leahy’s staff is saying that he’s still working on getting support for the commission, which is why he hasn’t proposed legislation yet. But this report suggest otherwise.

It also suggests that Leahy couldn’t get Sen.John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was tortured as a POW during the Vietnam War — and supposed champion for human rights — to go along with the commission idea.

So if the truth commission idea is dead, what does that say about the likelihood of prosecution of former Bush officials? As I wrote earlier, when the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Leahy’s proposed commission, Republicans such as Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), while decrying the idea of such a broad-ranging commission, were making the strongest case for criminal prosecution we’d seen yet.

While advocates for a truth commission may be disappointed to learn the proposal isn’t moving forward, this may mean there’s now more of a chance that senior Bush policymakers who authorized torture, warrantless wiretapping and other illegal conduct will be held accountable in a court of law. Particularly as other U.S. allies — the United Kingdom and Spain, in particular — have recently announced their own investigations related to U.S.-sponsored torture and abuse of “war on terror” detainees.

In the meantime, as I’ve written before, Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee could still initiate a comprehensive inquiry into the role of the Justice Department in potentially illegal conduct under the Bush administration, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the Senate Intelligence Committee have done for the CIA.

There’s no need for a truth commission to get the investigative ball rolling.

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