staff) gives a big thumbs down to William Lynn, Barack Obama’s choice
for #2 at the Department of Defense, on the Rachel Maddow show. He
approves very favorably of Obama’s closing Guantanamo and his use of
the Army Field Manual for interrogation of those captured on the
battlefield. He also talks to Rachel about the release of Said
al-Shihri who is said to now be al-Qaeda’s #2 in Yemen. The video is
below. Following the video is an update on where congress stands on
the issue of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate those that
By Jason Leopold
President Barack Obama reverses some of ex-President George W. Bush’s
most controversial "war on terror" policies, a consensus seems to be
building among Democratic congressional leaders that further
investigations are needed into Bush’s use of torture and other
On Wednesday – the first working day of the Obama administration –
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would support funding and
staff for additional fact-finding by the Senate Armed Services
Committee, which last month released a report tracing abuse of
detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib to Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002,
decision to exclude terror suspects from Geneva Convention protections.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, who issued that
report, echoed Reid’s comments, saying "there needs to be an accounting
of torture in this country." Levin, D-Michigan, also said he intends to
encourage the Justice Department and incoming Attorney General Eric
Holder to investigate torture practices that took place while Bush was
Two other key Democrats joined in this growing chorus of lawmakers saying that serious investigations should be conducted.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, a former federal prosecutor
and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a floor speech,
"As the President looks forward and charts a new course, must someone
not also look back, to take an accounting of where we are, what was
done, and what must now be repaired."
Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters: "Looking at what has been done is necessary."
On Jan. 18, two days before Obama’s inauguration, House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi expressed support for House Judiciary Committee Chairman John
Conyers’s plan to create a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts to
probe the "broad range" of policies pursued by the Bush administration
"under claims of unreviewable war powers."
In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Pelosi specifically
endorsed a probe into the politicization of the Justice Department, but
didn’t spell out a position on Conyers’s plan to examine the Bush
administration’s torture and rendition policies, which could prove
embarrassing to Pelosi and other Democratic leaders who were briefed by
the CIA about these tactics.
Still, when Wallace cited Obama’s apparent unwillingness to investigate
the Bush administration, Pelosi responded: "I think that we have to
learn from the past, and we cannot let the politicizing of the — for
example, the Justice Department, to go unreviewed. Past is prologue. We
learn from it. And my views on the subject — I don’t think that Mr.
Obama and Mr. Conyers are that far apart."
The emerging consensus among top congressional Democrats for some form
of investigation into Bush’s controversial policies has surprised some
progressives who had written off the leadership long ago for blocking
impeachment hearings and other proposals for holding Bush and his
In 2006, for instance, Pelosi famously declared that "impeachment is
off the table," and prior to Election 2008, the Democratic leadership
largely acquiesced to Bush’s demands for legislation that supported his
"war on terror" policies, including a compromise bill granting legal
immunity to telecommunications companies that assisted in Bush’s
A Changed Tone
Since the election – in which the Democrats increased their
congressional majorities and won the White House – key Democrats have
begun releasing more information about Bush’s abuses of power.
Besides Levin’s findings on mistreatment of detainees, Conyers
published a 487-page report entitled "Reining in the Imperial
Presidency: Lessons and Recommendations Relating to the Presidency of
George W. Bush" that calls for the creation of a blue-ribbon panel and
independent criminal probes into the Bush administration’s conduct in
the "war on terror."
Conyers urged the Attorney General to "appoint a Special Counsel or
expand the scope of the present investigation into CIA tape destruction
to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant
to Bush administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable
war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition,
and warrantless domestic surveillance."
Last year, Bush’s Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed U.S.
Attorney John Durham as special counsel to investigate whether the
destruction of CIA videotapes that depicted interrogators waterboarding
alleged terrorist detainees violated any laws. Durham was not given the
authority to probe whether the interrogation techniques themselves
violated anti-torture laws.
"At present, the Attorney General has agreed only to appoint a special
U.S. Attorney to determine whether the destruction of videotapes
depicting the waterboarding of a detainee constituted violations of
federal law," Conyers’s report said.
"Despite requests from Congress, that prosecutor has not been asked to
investigate whether the underlying conduct being depicted – the
waterboarding itself or other harsh interrogation techniques used by
the military or the CIA – violated the law. … Appointment of a
special counsel would be in the public interest (e.g., it would help
dispel a cloud of doubt over our law enforcement system)."
Additional evidence about the Bush administration’s actions is expected
to become available in the coming weeks as the Obama administration
loosens the secrecy that has surrounded Bush’s "war on terror," a
phrase that Obama and his team have effectively dropped from
Obama’s aides have indicated that there soon may be a "public airing"
of secret Justice Department legal opinions and other documents that
provided the underpinning for the Bush administration’s brutal
Levin also indicated that he expects to release the full Armed Services
Committee report – covering an 18-month investigation – in about two or
three weeks. Levin added that he would ask the Senate Intelligence
Committee to conduct its own investigation of torture as implemented by
Meanwhile, Republicans have grown increasingly worried that Holder, as
Attorney General, will launch a criminal investigation into Bush’s
interrogation policies. They delayed a vote on his nomination demanding
that he respond to questions about whether he intends to investigate
and/or prosecute Bush administration officials.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he wants to ask Holder whether he
intends to investigate the Bush administration and intelligence
officials for torture
Last week, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary
Committee, Holder was asked about the practice of waterboarding, a form
of simulated drowning that the Bush administration has acknowledged
using against three terror suspects. Holder answered that
"waterboarding was torture."
Cornyn said Holder’s view means there is a possibility that investigations might be on the horizon.
"Part of my concern, frankly, relates to some of his statements at the
hearing in regard to torture and what his intentions are with regard to
intelligence personnel who were operating in good faith based upon
their understanding of what the law was," Cornyn said Wednesday