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Leahy: Truth Commission Dead; Law School Dean Rocks Radio on Torture April 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, Torture.
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Ralph Lopez 

www.opednews.com, April 5, 2009

Moving more out of step with progressive Vermonters all the time, Senator Pat Leahy announced at a meeting with constituents that his Truth Commission is off.

My friend and logger Ed Dickau writes:

[The] senator is a hypocrite and a back peddling coward and opportunistic sell out. He could have been a servant of this nation and its Constitution; instead he chose to enjoy a measure of good press, progressive and liberal support, turned around and asked for campaign contributions for his “Good Acts” and then dumped us in the sewer of DC politics, bleeding, with a knife in our backs.

The Green Mountain State has been at the forefront of movements to hold Bush administration officials accountable for torture, lying us into the Iraq War, subverting the Constitution, and other crimes. A 2007 CBS poll showed two-thirds of Vermonters for impeaching Bush. At Matt Stoller’s Opens Left 2010 Senate Primary Watch a commenter affirms the grumblings about Leahy:

let’s please primary Leahy no matter what happens. His performance as ranking Dem on the judiciary committee during the Roberts and esp. the Alito hearings was dismal. Utterly Dismal. As ranking member, he should have had a game plan for Alito, esp after seeing the stealth type campaign that swept Roberts in. Now we have two more Scalias. Sure, it would have been a tough, uphill battle, but it would have been worth it and the buck stops at Leahy. Lousy strategy (i.e. none) lousy examination during hearings (I listened) and just downright lousy performance.

The news is not all bad however. Law School Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Justice Jackson prosecution project, which seeks to file a complaint against Bush administration officials for torture this spring, has taken to the airwaves and is tearing them up. This interview with WMPG FM’s Michael Cutting in Portland, Maine is a strong indication that this is not going away, as politicians from Obama on right and on down would like it to. You can’t hang men who are innocent, who you know are innocent, by the arms from the ceiling and torture them in the name of the American people. This interview is a MUST LISTEN.  (To get Velvel on the radio/TV in your town contact neimpeach-AT-gmail-DOT-com)

Matt Stoller wrote last October:

I’m going to assume that the Senate, as the most conservative institution on our Federal level, will be a major breeze to the right in terms of health care, trade agreements, civil liberties, economic justice, etc. Let’s then examine the playing field for 2010; the environment for 2010 is unpredictable and probably chaotic, with a sharp recession on its way and a credit crisis here now.

I’m particularly interested in possible primaries to the Democrats, the party that the lobbyists are going to fete repeatedly and intensely in 2009 and 2010, much to our chagrin. I’m sure there will be retirements, but here’s the list of Democrats up for reelection:

Bayh, Evan – (D – IN)
Boxer, Barbara- (D – CA)
Dodd, Christopher J.- (D – CT)
Dorgan, Byron L.- (D – ND)
Feingold, Russell D.- (D – WI)
Inouye, Daniel K.- (D – HI)
Leahy, Patrick J.- (D – VT)
Lincoln, Blanche L.- (D – AR)
Mikulski, Barbara A.- (D – MD)
Murray, Patty- (D – WA)
Reid, Harry- (D – NV)
Salazar, Ken- (D – CO)
Schumer, Charles E.- (D – NY)

The economic crisis is likely to soften up incumbents as only an economic crisis can, as Americans previously fat and happy keep raiding food pantries and losing homes. Anger and political involvement always increase when a threshold of greed, beyond what is normal and expected of our ruling classes, is crossed, and Americans wake up from the disbelief of staring at nest eggs which are now empty. Yep, that’s good and empty alright. A lifetime of work. And those guys who are getting bailed out, their idea of pain is having to buy a smaller offshore villa.

When it sinks in that a mere $114 million to senators and lobbyists bought $300 billion in TARP funds for banks and financial institutions who made bad bets, a 260,000 PERCENT return on investment, American Idol will no longer keep the rabble diverted and entertained, especially if they have to shut off the cable to buy food. Meanwhile, the top one-percenters in income who by themselves get 1/3 of the pie, go bargain hunting in the stock market, with the bailouts you are paying for. Sucks, doesn’t it?

Even Donald Trump admits he has lost plenty of net worth, but sunnily gloats:

“We’re going up. We’re buying things we couldn’t have dreamed of buying two years ago. And we have a lot of cash.”

The way the pie is now divided and how it got there is neatly summarized in these two charts, from the Too Much Newsletter on Excess and Inequality:


Ronald Reagan was only the first part of the build-up in the action which continued under Clinton and the Bushes until the grand finale – now – when they steal the last of your childrens’ inheritance and disappear to places like Monaco and off-shore havens like “The Colony.” Too Much reported just last September:

several top Wall Streeters purchased villas in The Colony, a new Caribbean luxury project touted as Jamaica’s “most expensive gated oceanfront development on record.” The villas run up to $7 million each and carry a $72,000 annual fee that gives owners 60 days of butler, chef, and maid service.

When you own a third of the whole American pie, that kind of money is no problem. And this is who is getting your bail-out money.

It sure isn’t going to the schmucks getting laid off at these institutions. It sure isn’t going toward a 2-year voucher for any worker training you choose, help with your mortgage, and jobs programs. That’s because you aren’t the one who gave $114 million in campaign money to fewer than 100 men and women, especially those sitting on banking and finance committees and sub-committees.

You ain’t seen nothing yet. The economy is hemorrhaging jobs like the blood of an accident victim in the head trauma unit, and we haven’t even had a terror attack produced by the blown job in Afghanistan yet. Or the Chinese calling in their debt.

Primary challenges to senators like Leahy are hard to come by in ordinary times, but the next two years will be anything but ordinary times. The following is posted on behalf of Charlotte Dennett, one of the Vermonters reporting on Leahy’s Truth Commission wimp-out.

Leahy’s Truth Commission Hits the Skids

Those of you following the prosecution trail will be interested to know that Patrick Leahy’s Truth Commission is a no-go. I was in a meeting with Leahy and 4 other Vermonters on Monday when he broke the news to us. We had asked for the meeting to learn why he supported a Truth Commission over the appointment of a special prosecutor. Halfway through the allotted 30 minute meeting (with him taking up much of the time explaining why he was not generally opposed to prosecution, since he had been a DA for 8 years and had the highest conviction rate in Vermont) he told us that his Truth Commission had failed to get the broad support it needed in Congress , and since he couldn’t get one Republican to come behind the plan, “it’s not going to happen.”

It was a sobering exchange. The meeting had begun with our expressing serious concerns about ongoing dangers to our democracy, with the trend going to executive power while damaging our constitution. “We are a nation of laws,” said Dan DeWalt, who had helped organize 36 Vermont towns to vote for Impeachment of Bush on town meeting day. ” If we have a system of justice, why not let it take its course? It seems to many Americans that the rich and powerful don’t have the same system of justice, and they’re getting away with torture, murder, fraud, and Ponzi schemes.”

By the end of the meeting, we were beginning to wonder whether anything at all was going to done – by Congress, by Attorney General Holder, by President Obama — to hold the Bush team accountable for its crimes.

Leahy own aversion to appointing a special prosecutor appeared to be more practical than philosophical.

“We don’t want another Abu Ghraib,” he said. “You know, ‘Boy did we get those privates and corporals. So many up on high will never get touched. Its like the war on drugs – lets get those black kids on cocaine.” So its not that he had a problem with prosecutions per se. “I just worry that the prosecutions will be done only on middle-level people.”

Well then, what would happen to the higher ups? Leahy had said, on previous occasions, that the purpose of his Truth Commission was to grant immunity to those willing to testify – presumably middle level people – and we could infer from that that they, in turn, would spill the beans on their superiors. If any of the witnesses lied under oath or were less than thorough in their answers, he had told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow a month ago, they could be prosecuted for perjury. But that still left the destiny of high government officials uncertain.

Leahy had hinted to Maddow that if officials refused to honor subpoenas, they, too could be prosecuted. But in the real world, as Monday’s news suggests, the people most responsible for the crimes will continue to get off free.

We should at least be content, Leahy said, with his success in forcing former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez’s resignation.

After Leahy left the meeting, his aide, Chuck Ross, assured our group that there was no one more devoted to protecting the Constitution than Leahy. “He has been persistent in the face of obfuscation. He got rid of Gonzalez. I would challenge you to find someone who has done more to defend the Constitution.”

Then Ross let out a memorable one-liner. “He’s all you’ve got.”

What?  Leahy’s all we got to protect the Constitution? And we have to accept Gonzalez’s resignation as the only punishment for years of gutting the rule of law? It took about five minutes for all this to sink in. Then fellow Vermonter John Nirenberg spoke, I think, for all of us. “If he’s the only guy, this is not a healthy situation.”

It is, perhaps, no coincidence, that the same time Leahy downplayed the Truth Commission, Congressional aides were quoted by reporter Jason Leopold of Consortium News that “the focus has shifted to the economy and that pressure for a special prosecutor to bring criminal charges over the Bush administration’s past actions could become a distraction to that focus.” Leahy’s aide Ross had said the same thing. Everyone was focusing on the economy.

So now, it seems, the wrecked economy – complements of the Bush Administration — is becoming the excuse for Congressional inaction after eight years of unremitting malfeasance. This is serious, folks. Appointing a Special Prosecutor had been the top issue on President Obama’s website when he took office. Either he’s not listening any more, or his supporters are “moving forward, not backward,” just as he prefers – and his right flank (the CIA, the neocons, and everyone else who has something to hide) desperately want.. It remains to be seen if his huge base can get through to him on this issue, now that he occupies the White House. If they cannot, then the failure to hold even a Truth Commission, let alone prosecutions, signals a return to the same old way of doing things. Deterrence be damned.

Charlotte Dennett is a lawyer and investigative journalist. She ran for Attorney General in Vermont on a pledge to prosecute George W. Bush using state criminal statutes

LAWRENCE VELVEL, DEAN OF THE MASSACHUSETTS SCHOOL OF LAW, ON TORTURE, WMPG FM, PORTLAND, MAINE, MUST LISTEN. (To get Velvel on the radio/TV in your town contact neimpeach-AT-gmail-DOT-com)



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