Senate Hears Testimony On Proposed Truth Commission

March 4, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – A key Senate committee met today to hear testimony from constitutional experts and legal scholars to determine the focus and scope of a proposed “truth commission” to investigate the national security and executive power policies of the Bush administration. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) initiated the hearing after announcing last month that he sought to form the commission.

The American Civil Liberties Union is urging the establishment of a Select Committee that will work in conjunction with Senator Leahy’s commission, believing that the combination of both committees would be an effective format for congressional review of Bush administration policies. The Select Committee would have the ability to allocate the necessary time and resources outside of the day-to-day demands of the standing committee structure. It would also bring together members from the relevant committees with jurisdiction over the relevant issues to share their expertise concerning the programs under review.

“Americans’ faith in government has been deeply shaken,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “While a truth commission is a valid and admirable suggestion, Congress must go further. Congress’ complacent approach to oversight has done our country irreparable harm and legitimized illegal and counter-productive intelligence programs. It’s time for Congress to step up in a very real way and assert its role of oversight.”

The ACLU believes that the legendary Church Committee, formed by Congress to investigate the egregious abuses of executive power of the 1970s, is a good model for a Select Committee to investigate Bush administration policies. In nine months, the Church Committee interviewed 800 individuals and conducted 250 executive and 21 public hearings. Its report had far reaching impact and resulted in the creation of the permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, among other reforms. The ACLU believes that a new Select Committee could have similar results, ensuring that future administrations would follow the law and respect individual rights, regardless of the party in power. The ACLU is also encouraging the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct its own investigation and, if warranted by the facts, to bring any criminal charges.

“The work of Frank Church and ten other Senators should not be lost on the 111th Congress,” said Fredrickson. “For eight years, our system of checks and balances has been woefully unbalanced in favor of the executive branch. The Truth Commission is a beginning for Congress to reassert its power, but it must go further. A Select Committee would pave the way for the reform our government so desperately needs.”

To read the ACLU’s statement for the record, go to:

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