Time for a Truth Commission

April 12, 2010

by Roger Koppl

London’s The Times reports on evidence suggesting “George W. Bush ‘knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent.’”  (HT: Radley Balko)  Supposedly, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were all in on it.  “The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee.”

According to The Times, “He [Wilkerson] said that many [persons] were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000.”  The problem with these payments is clear.  Paying persons serious money to turn in supposed terrorists creates a powerful incentive to invent false charges so that you can get the money.  In that part of the world, $5,000 is very serious money indeed.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that many persons swept up in that operation were innocent persons who were sold out to fatten a wallet.

Karl Rove has said that waterboarding is not torture.  (Go to about 3:07.)  He has also said that “harsh interrogation” produced lots of good actionable intelligence (2:25).  That’s not a credible remark in my book.

In the US, our government has rendered, sequestered, and tortured.  Our government has flouted the rule of law and suspended habeas corpus.  It has made war on a nation that was not a threat to us in any way.  It has spied on us without the legal nicety of a specific warrant.  It has, in other words, grown tyrannical.  Isn’t it time for a truth commission?  It is too much to hope for a real criminal trial of our highest officials, but is it really too much to ask for the truth?  Patrick Leahy called for a truth commission in February 2009.  It’s time.

9 Responses to “Time for a Truth Commission”

  1. Efinancial Says:

    That last paragraph sounds a lot like the US during the Civil War. I guess things haven’t changed much in the last 150 years. But a truth commission? Koppl is quite the dreamer.

  2. Seth Says:

    Would the expectation that it would get to the truth?

  3. Richard Schulman Says:

    I enjoyed Professor Koppel’s recent book review; he was writing on a subject to which he brings professional expertise and knowledge. On the present subject, by contrast, he brings about as much wisdom and expertise as he did some months ago to the subject of climate change. It would be better when he is overwhelmed by an urge to opinionate on such subjects that he go to a blog where expertise is not expected — just academically fashionable opinion.

  4. koppl Says:

    Andrew Sullivan also picked up on The Times’ story yesterday. His post is entitled “Cheney Knew They Were Innocent.” Sullivan incudes an interesting, if distressing, extract from Wilkerson’s statement. Here’s the url:

    http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/04/cheney-knew-they-were-innocent.html

  5. koppl Says:

    @Seth: I think the truth is pretty much hiding in plain sight, so I don’t think a truth commission would have to dig very deep or try very hard to do some good. Sadly, Efinancial’s point is apposite: It is not likely our elected officials will choose to do what I ask.

    @Richard Shulman: Seriously, what “expertise” is required to argue that tyranny is bad and liberty is good? How does “expertise” enter the question?

    I should probably point out that Obama is little or better on these points and, indeed, may be worse. Obama has expressly authorized the killing without due process of an American citizen. Glenn Greenwald gives us a good discussion:
    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/04/07/assassinations

    Eli Lake of the Washington Times has also given us a good discussion of the similarities on these issues between Bush and Obama:
    http://reason.com/archives/2010/04/06/the-914-presidency/

    David Weigel of the Washington Post cites Lake in a piece entitled “Change you shouldn’t have believed in: Special foreign policy edition.”
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/right-now/2010/04/change_you_shouldnt_have_belie.html

    I ask what others have asked: Where is the outrage? As I have noted before on this blog, it seems that “We Are All Fascists Now.”
    https://thinkmarkets.wordpress.com/2009/07/13/we-are-all-fascists-now/

    As an enemy of liberty pointed asked in another time and place, What is to be done?

  6. Eric H Says:

    “What ‘expertise’ is required to argue that tyranny is bad and liberty is good?”

    I offer the example of Sarah Palin in reply.

    Perhaps the word we search for is “acumen,” or maybe “insight.” It takes a lot of both to argue for liberty and against tyranny.

    I also dispute the idea that Iraq was not a threat to the U.S. “Iraq” and “the U.S.” are abstractions. They are only ideas and as such cannot threaten anyone. Only people can make threats. To argue that “Iraq” was not a threat is to argue that Saddam Hussein had no power. He had enough power to imprison, torture, and murder thousands of his countrymen and nearly wipe out a generation of young men in a suicidal war with Iran.

    The degree to which Hussein was a threat to the interests of American leaders might never be known. This is the potential nature of any kind of preemption.

    As far as “what is to be done?” I say “nothing.” Those responsible for the war were removed by the electorate or hanged. All of them know how responsible they are and all of them must live–or rot in hell–with that. It’s the current round of nuts that concerns me most, because they campaigned on some of the points you mention but have left Gitmo unmolested and extended our Iraq stay. Did they think they could evade the justice they expediently claimed was necessary for Bush et al? Or was it never a matter of justice in the first place?

  7. chidemkurdas Says:

    How such commissions behave and what they do is an intriguing question. There have been a number of them in the past two decades or so, from Eastern Europe to South Africa. Where there is a major change in government — e.g. East Germany — they seem to bring to light important facts that were until then concealed.

  8. Bill Stepp Says:

    Eric H,

    Guess who backed Saddam Hussein in the 1980s war with Iran? If you guessed the USA, go to the head of the class.
    And exactly how did he pose a threat to the U.S., or to the interests of U.S. “leaders”? He lacked the ability to bomb Congress and the White House.

  9. Eric H Says:

    Bill–

    Who backed Saddam Hussein in the 1980s is immaterial to questions about whatever threat he posed in 2003, especially because the Iran/Iraq conflict was a playground for diverse international interests. A former alliance–if that is really what it was–doesn’t trump a right to self defense, does it? I assume you’d stay put if a close acquaintance aimed a loaded shotgun at your chest. That’s certainly your prerogative.

    I can’t say with joyous certainty that the Iraq invasion was a necessity, but I don’t need to. The people who made the case for the war and then fought it are the ones that bear that responsibility. I agree with Chidem that truth commissions can shed valuable amounts of light–if major changes in government occur. That is not what happens in the United States, under any circumstances, even the New Deal and yes, even the lead-up to the Iraq invasion.

    I don’t consider–and neither should you, if you wish to stay sane–the White House and Congress “interests” of U.S. leaders. Our “leaders” would still practice their thievery if they had an outhouse and a used car lot for redoubts.


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