Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy insisted on Monday in firm and passionate terms that a comprehensive investigation be launched into the conduct of the Bush administration, saying anything less would prevent the country from moving forward.
Speaking at a forum at Georgetown University, the Vermont Democrat suggested the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission to uncover the "misdeeds" of the past eight years.
"Many Americans feel we need to get to the bottom of what went wrong," said Leahy. "I agree. We need to be able to read the page before we turn the page."
The Senator also stated that Attorney General Eric Holder never gave assurances to Republican Senators that he would not prosecute Bush administration officials who may have been involved in illegalities such as authorizing torture or warrantless wiretapping.
"There are some who resist any effort to investigate the misdeeds of the recent past," he said. "Indeed, during the nomination hearing of Eric Holder, some of my fellow Senators on the other side of the aisle tried to extract a devil's bargain from him in exchange for the votes -- a commitment that he would not make... That is a pledge no prosecutor should give and Eric Holder did not give it. But because he did not it accounts for some of the votes against him."
At one point, Leahy slammed the lectern with his right fist, underscoring the emotion he brought to the debate. His remarks referred to claims that Holder had provided Republicans on the Judiciary Committee a pledge not to prosecute Bush officials -- claims that the Obama administration denied.
Leahy framed his commission idea -- which he had not discussed publicly prior to Monday -- as a middle ground of sorts between those who adamantly oppose investigations and those who say "we must prosecute Bush administration officials to lay down a marker."
The Senate, he proposed, would "authorize a group of people universally recognized as fair-minded and without any axe to grind" to investigate the Bush administration's actions.
"Rather than vengeance, we need a fair-minded pursuit of what actually happened," he said.
This is "not to humiliate people or punish people, but to get the truth out, so we don't make the same mistakes again," Leahy said later during the question and answer session. "We fought Revolution in this country so we could protest the actions of government. We should protect that."
After the speech, Leahy elaborated a bit on what he had just announced: The commission could, if needed, be granted subpoena power and it would investigate everything from torture to the faulty information that brought the country into war in Iraq. He had not, he acknowledged, discussed the idea with the Obama administration or Holder. After 35 years in Washington, he said, "I like being able to say what I want to say."