Huffington Post- Rep. John Conyers
The Obama era began in earnest last week, with bold action such as closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and promising to end torture. In its very first days, the new administration has begun to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding executive branch operations, and has made great strides forward on fundamental challenges such as energy and the environment, and above all the national economic crisis left in the wake of the Bush Presidency. While great challenges and much hard work remain, the way forward is bright and clear.
As we proceed, however, the question remains how best to respond to the severe challenge posed to our constitutional structure, and to our national honor, by the Bush administration’s actions, and in particular its national security programs. Faced with a record of widespread warrantless surveillance inside the United States, brutal interrogation policies condemned by the administration’s own head of the Guantanamo Bay military commissions as torture, and flawed rendition practices that resulted in innocent men being abducted and handed to other countries to face barbaric abuse, what actions will we take to meet our commitment to the rule of law and reclaim our standing as a moral leader among nations?
I have previously explained my view that a full review of the record must be conducted by an experienced and independent prosecutor, and should focus on the senior policymakers and lawyers who ordered and approved these actions. Others, such as my fellow Michigander Senator Carl Levin, have suggested similar measures. This approach is compelled in my opinion by the basic notion that, if crimes were committed, those responsible should be held accountable – after all, is there any principle of American freedom more fundamental than the rule that no person is above the law? If this independent review concludes that the Bush Administration’s legal constructs make prosecution impossible for some, so be it, but the matter should be given a proper look before such judgments are made one way or the other.
Some commentators – including even those firmly opposed to criminal investigation – support the creation of an independent Commission with appropriate clearances and subpoena power to review the existing record, make policy recommendations, and publish an authoritative account of these events. I have introduced a bill in the House that would create such a commission, and I believe this sort of public accounting is critical as well.
There remain those, however, who would have us simply move on. Some fear the consequences of a true accounting, or worry that taking time to reckon with the sins of the past will hinder us in meeting the challenges of the future. Others argue that the facts are already known, and further review will accomplish little. Often, the call for further review of the Bush administration’s actions is dismissed as partisan payback, kicking an unpopular President when he’s down.
I could not disagree more with these views. As a practical matter, I do not believe that empowering a commission or an independent prosecutor would burden the Congress or the executive or would hinder our efforts to meet the challenges of the day. To the contrary, allowing outside review of these matters by qualified independent experts will free us and President Obama to focus our efforts where they are most needed – on solving the problems before us and improving the lives of the American people.