Washington Brushing aside the president’s suggestions, congressional Democrats pushed ahead firmly on Wednesday toward investigations into the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation of terror suspects including hundreds of instances of waterboarding and other abusive practices.
President Barack Obama said a day earlier that if there was to be an investigation, the independent commission that looked into the Sept. 11 attacks would be a better model than a congressional probe that might break down along party lines. But Democrats were moving in their own directions, and Republicans were united in their opposition to a commission that they see as an effort to vilify George W. Bush now that he is out of office.
Democrats moved toward separate hearings in the House and Senate and seemed to be jostling each other for leadership roles on the issue, all but ignoring Obama’s effort to head off an uncontrolled, partisan sprint toward a rash of probes that could impair the foreign policy he now steers.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California pointedly noted that her Intelligence Committee already is investigating the Bush administration’s legal underpinnings for the interrogation program and the value of information gained from it. And several Democratic leaders appeared to favor using that panel for any hearings.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the Intelligence Committee inquiry “will answer a lot of the questions the American people have. ... One way or another there needs to be a public accounting of these troublesome policies.”
There was no shortage of other ideas for how that might be achieved.
The chairmen of both the Senate and House Judiciary committees, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, are proposing an independent “Truth Commission,” and Conyers also is planning committee hearings of his own. His panel is populated with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, a prescription for a bitter fight.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she supports a Truth Commission. Her spokesman, Brendan Daly, said she also supports Conyers’ plan to hold separate hearings.
Republicans were decidedly unenthusiastic.
Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, also dismissed the idea of a separate commission probe, saying, “All of the facts are readily available to the Department of Justice.”