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Conyers Renews Call for Investigation of Bush Administration Actions

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) today issued not one but two press releases responding to the latest batch of Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel torture memos produced yesterday by the Justice Department in response to Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Conyers, of course, has been pressing for a “National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties,” composed of experts outside government “to investigate the broad range of policies of the Bush administration that were undertaken by the Bush administration under claims of unreviewable war powers.” Unlike Sen. Pat Leahy’s (D-Vt.) proposed “Commission of Inquiry,” the House bill, which has 27 cosponsors, would not provide immunity for officials who broke the law.

Today, Conyers praised President Obama, among others, for releasing the OLC memos yesterday, but emphasized that “critical questions remain.”

“As Americans digest the awful revelations in the Bush-era OLC opinions, our nation faces a critical choice – what will we do to ensure that abuses like those described in these memos are never again ordered by our leaders or justified by our lawyers? To me, the answer is obvious. We must have a full investigation of the circumstances under which these torture methods were created, approved, and implemented, preferably by an independent commission as I previously proposed. And if our leaders are found to have violated the strict laws against torture, either by ordering these techniques without proper legal authority or by knowingly crafting legal fictions to justify the torture, they should be criminally prosecuted. It is simply obvious that, if there is no accountability when wrongdoing is exposed, future violations will not be deterred.

Responding to an editorial in The Wall Street Journal today by former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey criticizing the release of the memos, Conyers said:

To take just one example, today two former Bush Administration officials again took to the papers to justify these practices by claiming that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydeh had been a clear success and had led to the disruption of terrorist plots. Yet just two weeks ago, former Bush Administration officials who monitored this interrogation told reporters that ‘not a single significant plot was foiled’ as a result. The American people deserve a non-partisan answer to such fundamental questions.

Conyers also joined the growing chorus of advocates who criticized the decision to grant immunity to CIA officials who were following orders authorized by the legal memos:

Finally, I do not understand the statements by the President and the Attorney General yesterday on the issue of potential prosecutions to address the senior officials and government attorneys who crafted and approved these programs. Further, yesterday’s statements did not address the legality of any conduct that exceeded even the minimal boundaries established by the OLC memos, or any interrogations that occurred before legal guidance was provided.

The Obama administration has acknowledged that that’s true, as Marc Ambinder writes in The Atlantic. But given the wide berth offered the CIA by the OLC lawyers, as a practical matter, most CIA officers seem to be pretty much off the hook. Whether other Bush administration officials will get off as easily remains to be seen.

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