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Leahy: Truth Commission Or Consequences

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Face The Nation Sunday that a non-partisan "truth commission" to investigate the authorization of controversial interrogation techniques (such as waterboarding) is necessary so that America can come to terms with "what happens when we lose our national honor."

"I know some people say, 'Let's turn the page,'" Leahy said. "Frankly, I'd like to read the page before we turn it."

He declared he was not seeking such an investigation out of "some idea of vengeance."

Leahy said that some aspects of the use of torture which are known — from the photographic evidence of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison to the recently released memos on waterboarding — point to areas where Bush administration officials were not straightforward about their practices. "We know that people did not tell the truth when they said 'We weren't doing that'; we know they weren't telling the truth when they said, 'Well, you only had to waterboard [a detainee] once or twice and you'd get everything you needed.'"

The memos revealed, for example, that two suspected al Qaeda operatives were waterboarded 266 times.

"We know that there were a number of people that made the decision to violate the law, a number of people who said that we don't have to follow our Constitution, others who wrote memos basically saying the president and the vice president are above the law; the laws of the United States [don't] apply to them like they do to you and me."

"I want to know who was it who made the decisions that 'We will violate our own laws. We'll violate our own treaties. We will even violate our own Constitution,'" he said. "That we don't know. We don't know what that chain of command was."

Leahy said the creation of a panel similar to the 9/11 Commission would avoid a "piecemeal" approach to investigating the matter (via the Judiciary, Armed Services, Intelligence and other congressional committees) and help ensure that such abuses never happen again.

Host Bob Schieffer noted that some in Congress – including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – were apparently briefed at some point on the interrogation techniques. He asked if Leahy was going to target members of Congress in any investigation.

"The commission can look at that," Leahy said. He noted that there is "a great deal of dispute" over the extent to which Senators were briefed. "If you had a bipartisan commission or a nonpartisan commission, they'll look at all those questions. And they'll look at the transcripts of what was said."

Schieffer also commented on former Vice President Dick Cheney's recent remarks calling for more details about interrogations be released, on the assumption that "proof" information obtained from terror suspects was valuable would mitigate questions about the tactics used.

"Well, you know, I find this very interesting, considering the fact that the vice president didn't even want to admit that he was part of the three branches of government," Leahy said. "He was saying that, when people were asking questions, 'We're kind of a fourth branch, so we don't have to answer.'

"I would be delighted if he wants to come up and talk about it under oath," he said.

Asked by Schieffer if he would subpoena the former vice president if Cheney refused to speak under oath, Leahy said he would not. "He can go on his talk shows and do a postmortem thing," the Senator suggested.

More from Face The Nation (4.26.09):

  • McCain: Don't Investigate Torture Memos

  • Schieffer: Bo Has Left The Building
  • Read The Complete Transcript> (pdf)

    To watch Senator Leahy's appearance on Face The Nation click on the video player below.

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