Bush administration accused of abuses of powe


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05-03-2009 12:40 PM


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Radio National


05-03-2009 12:40 PM



05-03-2009 01:46 PM

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2009-03-05 12:40:56

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HALL, Eleanor





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Reporter: Kim Landers

ELEANOR HALL: In the United States, some Democrats are pushing for a 'Truth Commission' to
investigate alleged abuses of power by the Bush administration.

The independent panel would examine the actions taken by the US Government after the September the
11th attacks, including the establishment of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.

As Washington correspondent Kim Landers reports, the commission was proposed at a hearing of the
Senate Judiciary Committee today.

KIM LANDERS: Democrats have branded the Bush administration one of the most secretive in US
history. Americans were kept in the dark for a long time about harsh interrogation tactics, the
extraordinary renditions of detainees and the warrantless wiretapping program.

Now the US Senate has taken the first step towards setting up a probe into alleged abuses committed
under the Bush administration's 'war on terror' policies.

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, is calling it a 'Truth

PATRICK LEAHY: How did we get to a point where Abu Ghraib happened? How did we get to a point where
the United States Government tried to make Guantanamo Bay a law free zone? How did we get to a
point where the White House could say if we tell you to do it, even if it breaks the law it's
alright because we're above the law?

KIM LANDERS: Patrick Leahy has compared his proposed panel with South Africa's post-apartheid Truth
and Reconciliation Commission. He believes the US version should look specifically at allegations
of questionable interrogation techniques, extraordinary rendition and the executive overriding of

Senator Leahy says it should also have the power to issue subpoenas and offer immunity to witnesses
in order to get at the truth.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are questioning the need for a Truth Commission.

Arlen Specter is the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He says there's no need
to, quote, 'go off helter skelter' on 'a fishing expedition'. Senator Specter says the Justice
Department is capable of doing an investigation, although he's also offered a glimmer of support
for the Truth Commission.

ARLEN SPECTER: I would not mind looking backward if there's a reason to do so, if there's a
predicate. If we have evidence of torture, torture is a violation of our law. Go after it.

KIM LANDERS: President Barack Obama says he's more interested in moving forward than looking
backwards but he also says if there are clear instances of wrongdoing then people should be
prosecuted. The US Senate hasn't yet decided whether or not to see up the Truth Commission.

David Rivkin is a lawyer who served in the Department of Justice during the administrations of
Ronald Reagan and the first president George Bush. He says it's a bad idea because it would cut
across any possible criminal investigations.

DAVID RIVKIN: A commission of whatever variety to investigate the Bush administration activities
and its officials is a profoundly bad idea, a dangerous idea - both for policy but more importantly
for me as a lawyer for legal and constitutional reasons.

KIM LANDERS: The Obama administration is already lifting the curtain on some of the Bush
administration's policies. It's declassified nine Justice Department legal memos covering things
like sending detainees to other countries and authorising the military to search the homes of
Americans without a warrant.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been pushing for the release of the memos and dozens more.
Jameel Jaffer is the director of the ACLU's national security project.

JAMEEL JAFFER: So there are still dozens of memos that are secret, including memos that provided
the basis for the national security agency's warrantless wiretapping program, memos that provided
the basis for the CIA's torture program.

KIM LANDERS: And Jameel Jaffer says a Truth Commission could investigate a question not answered by
the release of these memos.

JAMEEL JAFFER: What conduct was authorised on the basis of these legal memos? Because in some
senses these legal memos tell us what the Justice Department thought that the executive branch was
authorised to do but they don't actually tell us what the executive branch did.

KIM LANDERS: This is Kim Landers in Washington for The World Today.