Truth Commission Could Have ‘Chilling Effect’ on National Security, Republican Says

Josiah Ryan | April 24, 2009 | 8:47am EDT
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( - Setting up a truth commission to investigate the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the Central Intelligence Agency under the Bush administration, as some members of Congress are advocating, could have a “chilling effect” on government personnel whose duty it is to protect our nation, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told on Thursday.
“It depends on how it is carried out, but if it is done in a way that some people in this body want it to be done, it would have a chilling effect,” Flake told when asked what kind of effect he thought a truth commission might have on national security personnel.
“I think the president had it right the first time,” said Flake. “Let’s have the right policy moving forward and let’s let bygones be bygones. Once you start digging into this, then do you go after members of Congress who knew about it?  It opens up a can of worms I don’t think you want to open.”
Republicans, including Reps. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan and John Boehner of Ohio, insist that leaders of both parties were briefed on the CIA’s interrogation program as far back as 2002.
Even though the methods used on terror suspects should not come as a surprise to congressional leaders, Democrats in both chambers of Congress are demanding ‘truth commissions’ to investigate ‘abuses of power,’ including interrogation methods such as waterboarding.
Most Democrats who spoke with on Thursday were reluctant to state their position on whether a truth commission should be launched or what its effects might be.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), who is leading the House push for a truth commission, issued a statement last Friday indicating he would like to prosecute individuals responsible for the decision to use “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
“If our leaders are found to have violated the strict laws against torture, either by ordering these techniques without proper legal authority or by knowingly crafting legal fictions to justify the torture, they should be criminally prosecuted,” Conyers said in the statement.  “It is simply obvious that if there is no accountability when wrongdoing is exposed, future violations will not be deterred.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this week endorsed the establishment of a truth commission: “I think this is very important," she said.
President Barack Obama has flip-flopped on the question. On Tuesday, Obama said he would prefer an independent commission to a congressional investigation, but he also said he’d rather look forward than backwards.
Two days later, Obama appeared to back away from an independent commission: He reportedly told congressional leaders at the White House Thursday that a commission would "open the door to a protracted, backward-looking discussion," in the words of a White House official who spoke to the Washington Post.
Meanwhile Democrats who spoke with on Thursday seemed reluctant to stake a position on whether a truth commission should be set up.
“I have been thinking about this, but I do not have an answer for you,” said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). He also said he doubts waterboarding ever yielded any useful information.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said he would like to know more about how a truth commission would work:  “I would have to see what the outline of the proposal was …and who was being held accountable in order for me to make an informed comment.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ignored when asked if he thought individuals should be prosecuted for the decision to waterboard.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said he would rather speak about the issue a different time. “Don’t want to deal with that on the run like this,” Kerry told outside the Senate chamber on Thursday.” I just don’t want to do it on the run. “
But Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) told that he believes that if Bush administration officials are prosecuted over the decision to use waterboarding, al Qaeda will count it as a victory.
“I am sure Al Qaeda would be pleased to hear about that,” said Hensarling when asked if he thought individuals who were involved in the decision to waterboard ought to be prosecuted. “I thought this administration was going to look forward but now it seems unclear.”
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