Creating an independent truth commission to probe the Bush administration's controversial counterterrorism tactics could help restore the country's credibility abroad and prevent future abuses.
So went the divided opinions of experts testifying Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the question of what to do about the past eight years -- examine them or leave them behind.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee's chairman, called the hearing to explore the idea of creating a nonpartisan commission with subpoena powers and authority to obtain immunity as a middle ground between lengthy prosecutions and inaction.
The commission could focus on national security and executive power in the government's post-9/11 counterterrorism efforts, including the issues of cruel interrogation, extraordinary rendition and executive override of laws, said Leahy, who proposed the idea last month.
President Barack Obama's reaction to the idea has been lukewarm.
"Generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards," he said during a Feb. 9 news conference.
Obama may not have wanted to make news on the subject last month while trying to win Republican support for his economic recovery package, Leahy said during an interview. But he expects the president to discuss the idea with him now.
Justice Department's role...
Such a commission would help the public understand how decisions were made, who was consulted and the reasons for going down a path that was "inconsistent with our values," Frederick Schwartz, former chief counsel to a Senate committee that investigated intelligence services after the Watergate scandal, testified Wednesday.
Leahy has likened his proposal to the post-Watergate probe, which resulted in creation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, establishing a secret court to issue domestic wiretapping warrants that President George W. Bush overrode.
Witness David Rivkin, a Washington lawyer who served in Republican administrations, called the commission a "profoundly bad idea, a dangerous idea" that would tread on the responsibilities of the Justice Department. Having private citizens investigate former Bush administration officials would raise civil liberty concerns and increase the likelihood of former U.S. officials being tried overseas, he said....
-Chief witness against Rove being subtly threatened...
WMR has learned from informed sources in Alabama that the chief witness against former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, Alabama attorney Dana Jill Simpson, has been the recipient of not-so-veiled rejoinders stemming from the letter her attorney sent to Obama White House General Counsel Greg Craig.
In the February 22 letter to Craig, Simpson's attorney, Priscilla Black Duncan, stated that she and Simpson were "concerned about the person or persons to whom you have divulged her confidential information. Your recent efforts on the part of negotiating a settlement between Congress and Karl Rove have been noted, as well as your efforts to delay matters before the D.C. Court of Appeals, regarding Rove and other Bush administration officers claiming executive privilege. For this reason, she is asking that you step down from your position as White House Counsel, at least in all matters dealing with the Bush administration."
Craig was accused of having major conflicts of interest in his handling of the Rove matter and there was a demand that he The day after her letter to Craig, who was behind a deal between the Obama administration, the former Bush administration, and the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) that will see former Bush White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Rove answer questions posed by the committee behind closed doors, without sworn testimony under oath, and with a provision that the transcripts may or may not be released to the public.
The agreement between Craig, the Bush administration, and Conyers' committee does not mention testimony by Bush Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, also subpoenaed to appear before Conyers. The agreement substitutes William Kelley, a former Bush White House attorney who was involved in the firing of several U.S. Attorneys after Bush's 2004 re-election.
Nowhere in the "Agreement Concerning Accomodation" is the word "oath" mentioned. Simpson testified before the committee under oath in 2007 on Rove's involvement in the political prosecution of former Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman. Simpson's testimony was also made public. However, Rove has been given a major pass by Conyers and Craig on not having to be put under oath. WMR has been told that Conyers' committee has maintained that if Rove or Miers lies to congressional officers they could be prosecuted for perjury but this is an extremely flimsy legal basis to force Rove and Miers to tell the truth. In fact, Conyers is aiding and abetting a situation which will permit Rove and Miers to lie and get away with it, all with the backing of the Obama White House.
There is also a potential poison pill in the agreement on the testimony by Rove and Miers. The agreement states "With the exception of 4 pages of particularly sensitive privileged material (which will be described for Committee staff by a representative of the former President), Committee staff (majority and minority) will be allowed to review the documents for the period December 2004 through March 8, 2007." If any of the "sensitive material" is discussed by Rove and/or Miers in their "interviews," the transcript could be withheld either totally or in part from the public.
WMR has been informed that Simpson has received phoned statements. including "there is an ill wind blowing in Montgomery" over her lawyer's letter to Craig, that she should stay at home and not travel, that acquaintances of Simpson do not want to have to attend her funeral, and that there is "black magic" being worked against Simpson. In addition, Simpson's colleagues have received phone calls from people who claim that Simpson is depressed and that they are concerned she may commit suicide. WMR has received direct confirmation from Simpson that she is not depressed.
Intimidation of witnesses and whistleblowers was a hallmark of the Bush administration. Barack Obama has his first major scandal on his hands concerning his troubling defense of the unconstitutional and illegal practices of his predecessor. It is beyond time for White House Counsel Craig to resign from office and if the cover-up of the Bush administration continues, the Congress should take steps to re-introduce the Independent Special Counsel statute to ensure that an independent counsel investigates the criminal activities of the Bush administration and potential wrongdoing by officials of the Obama administration....For the good of the nation, John Conyers should step down as House Judiciary Committee chairman
By agreeing to let former Bush White House political adviser Karl Rove and President Bush's White House Counsel Harriet Miers to testify behind closed doors, not under oath, and without a firm commitment on the transcript of the "interview" of Rove and Miers to be made public, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) has perpetrated a great disservice to the American people. For the sake of the nation, it is time for Mr. Conyers to step down as chairman and be replaced with someone who will vigorously protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Conyers has failed in his duty to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans and ensure the separation of powers between the three co-equal branches of government.
With the FBI holding a "Sword of Damocles" over Conyers' head, he and his senior staff have been virtual hostages of the Bush administration. Now, based on Conyers' waffling on the Rove testimony and his failure in the past to pry loose from the Bush administration Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memoranda concerning discussions by the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11 to suspend the First Amendment of the Constitution and restrict freedom of the press, memos recently ordered released by Attorney General Eric Holder, the Judiciary Committee chairman has shown himself to be one of the worst chairmen of this all-important committee in its entire history.
This editor once remarked to an aide to Conyers that the chairman would do well to read up on how Judiciary Committee Chairman Representative Peter Rodino (D-NJ) successfully brought about the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, whose crimes in office pale in comparison to those committed by George W. Bush and his cronies. Ironically, Conyers was a member of Rodino's committee during the Watergate scandal.
On June 28, 2007, WMR reported: "WMR has learned that House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) received an unusual visit from the FBI yesterday morning. Although we have not determined the purpose of the 10 am meeting, it came on the same day that White House counsel Fred Fielding formally rejected subpoenas from Conyers and his Senate counterpart Patrick Leahy (D-VT) for documents concerning National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance of domestic communications."
On August 29, 2007, WMR had a follow-up story: "We have learned that Conyers' close association with [indicted Representative William] Jefferson was the primary topic of discussion of his meeting with the FBI. There is a strong possibility that Conyers was pressured to back off of impeachment or there would be a closer look by the Justice Department at his past dealings with Jefferson. During a recent appearance in New Jersey, Conyers was so adamant against impeachment, he tripped himself up when answering a call for impeaching Bush and Cheney. He told the anti-war crowd to get him a New Jersey Democrat to support an impeachment bill. Conyers was then told that New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne had signed on to Dennis Kucinich's bill to impeach Cheney. Conyers was unaware of that fact."
WMR can now confirm that Conyers was implicated in the bribery scandal involving Jefferson and information technology contracts in Nigeria and Ghana. The bribery involved a company with offices in Kentucky and New Jersey, iGate, and a McLean, Virginia firm W2 Corporation, which hired Brett Pfeffer, a former legislative aide to Jefferson. Conyers also maintained close contact with a native of Ghana and the FBI fingered Conyers in his connection with its Jefferson bribery investigation. From the time of the FBI's visit to Conyers' office, the Judiciary Committee chairman was under threat of blackmail and was effectively neutered as an oversight check on the Bush administration.
Conyers' failure as chairman also stems from three "left" gatekeepers he maintains on his staff: senior adviser Joel Segal, Judiciary Committee senior counsel Keenan Keller, and Conyers’ chief investigator Elliot Mintzberg.
However, the most egregious failure of Conyers was his inability to have released prior to a few days ago the "smoking gun" October 23,2001 memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales from Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Delahunty in which the idea of suspending the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, including restricting freedom of the press, was proffered to and received by the Bush White House. The release of the memos that show how close the United States got to becoming a full-fledged dictatorship should have been Conyers' first order of business when he took over as chairman in January 2007.
The Yoo memo states: "First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully." The memo similarly makes mincemeat of the Fourth Amendment protections against arbitrary searches and seizures by the government.
The memo, with all its post-terrorist restrictions on freedoms, would make Adolf Hitler giddy with joy. The memo also indicates that rumors that President Bush scoffed at the Constitution, which he swore in an oath to uphold, as a "God damned piece of paper," were true.