Senate Hearing on Accountability

March 5, 2009

Senator Pat Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) told today’s Judiciary Committee hearing on “Getting to the Truth through a Nonpartisan Commission of Inquiry” that he had received 65,000 emails and letters from members of the public supporting his call for a Commission to investigate human rights abuses in the War on Terror.

Senator Leahy added:

“Nothing has done more to damage America’s place in the world than the revelation that this nation stretched the law and bounds of executive power to authorize torture.”

Senator Leahy’s call for a Commission of Inquiry received strong support from Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island) and Russ Feingold (Democrat, Wisconsin). Senator Feingold went further also calling for prosecutions were crimes had occurred and expressing the hope that a Commission of Inquiry would not consider offering immunity in return for testimony. Senators Arlen Specter (Republican, Pennsylvania), Ted Kaufman (Democrat, Delaware) and John Cornyn (Republican, Texas) were also in attendance.

One of those invited to testify at the hearing was former United Nations Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who last month had worked with the coalition of human rights organizations calling for the establishment of a non-partisan commission of eminent persons to investigate the conduct of the Bush administration in this area. AIUSA has played a leading role in the coalition. Ambassador Pickering provided powerful testimony concerning the damage the Bush administration’s policies had done to America’s standing around the world.

Other news comes from the Senate Armed Services Committee where Senator Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan) is calling for the Department of Justice to open an independent investigation into the use of torture and other coercive techniques by military personnel and other government agents.

The Armed Services Committee is close to releasing a substantially updated version of its December 2008 bipartisan report on the “Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody”, expanded to include newly declassified material. The first version of this report identified a chain of culpability leading up to the highest levels of the Bush administration. With hard facts still in short supply we are confident that the release of this updated report will further drive calls for accountability.