FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Seek Truth, But Prosecute Liars

The similar calls by Senate Judiciary Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and House Judiciary Chair Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the crimes of the Bush/Cheney administration are potentially a terrible idea, but one that could turn out to be an excellent one, if handled correctly.

It would be a terrible idea if a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was just another 9-11-type body. That commission turned out to be worse than nothing, given that it was manipulated by the Bush administration to be toothless and that it ended up covering up more than it uncovered. Aside from the behind the scenes manipulation, the biggest problem with the 9-11 commission, though, was that is was not linked to any attempt to prosecute official wrongdoing.

A congressionally-established Truth and Reconciliation commission to examine Bush-era crimes like torture, lying to Congress, FISA violations, etc., would likely also end up doing more harm than good if it were just set up to call witnesses, issue a report and go home.

What is needed is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is linked to a plan for aggressively prosecuting wrongdoing. The idea, modelled on the commission set up by the popularly elected government under Nelson Mandela after the end of South Africa’s white apartheid police state rule, would be to hold hearings designed to get to the bottom of the many crimes that were committed against the Constitution, the people of the United States, and the people of the world, and to air them fully so that they would not happen again.

But for that to really work, there would have to be aggressive investigators and jurists appointed to the commission, it would have to be given unlimited subpoena power and an open-ended congressional investigative mandate with access to all state secrets, and finally, it would have to have the legal authority to grant immunity from prosecution to those who, under oath, volunteered to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to that body.

Linked to this, there would have to be a commitment on the part of the Justice Department, or ideally to an independent special prosecutor, to pursue those who either refused to testify before such a commission, or who were found to have lied to it.

I am not troubled by the idea that possible criminals, up to and including former President Bush and Vice President Cheney, might, as a result of their testimony before the commission, be allowed to live out their lives free from prosecution. If such men were to testify truthfully about what they had done, the effect on the American public would be so profound that it would be a powerful deterrent to any future leaders doing the same kind of thing, and those who were exposed would live lives of shame and be condemned by history. That’s good enough for me. I don’t need to see them locked up behind bars, or sentenced to death for murder. It’s not vengeance that we should be seeking, it is the prevention of another such episode of presidential lawlessness.

That said, the threat of prosecution is crucial to ensure that all administration officials come before such a commission if called, and that they testify honestly. Only by doing so could they avoid the risk of actual prosecution. Note that since this would not be a trial, there would be no “Fifth Amendment” waiver against self-incriminating testimony–a big advantage. If a witness were called and refused to appear, that witness should automatically be subject to investigation by a federal prosecutor. If a witness, as a result of documentary evidence, or the testimony of other witnesses, were found to have lied to the commission, he or she would also be subject to investigation and prosecution.

The beauty of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is that it can truly be presented as an effort to root out a problem and solve it, without there having to be a sense of retribution and political division. Any political contentiousness would be the result of witnesses’ refusal to participate, or to come clean, not of the effort to elicit the truth.

The other advantage of the commission approach to dealing with the wrongdoing and unconstitutional actions and usurpations of power by the executive branch over the past eight years is that it would encourage many lower-level administration officials who may have participated in criminal behavior or conspiracies to come forward and clear themselves by telling the truth, making the job of prosecuting higher-ups much easier.

So I say a cautious yes to Leahy’s and Conyers’ initiative, but only with the proviso that any commission they propose be linked to a plan to prosecute liars and those who refuse to testify if called.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail