Dear Dr. Marohl:
Thank you for contacting me about efforts to hold Bush Administration officials accountable for abuses such as the torture and illegal detention of suspects held in connection with our anti-terrorism operations. It is good to hear from you.
There is no question in my mind that individuals responsible for abuses, such as torture, illegal detention, extraordinary rendition, and other illegal acts, should be held accountable, and that we cannot afford to simply turn the page on this dark chapter in our history. The Bush Administration's policies and practices relating to detainees, particularly, and anti-terrorism operations in general, clearly crossed ethical lines and potentially violated both domestic and international laws. I believe that these practices must be fully examined, and that violations of the law should be prosecuted. Such accountability is necessary if we are to avoid a repetition of these mistakes in the future.
A more difficult question is how such accountability should be achieved. Some lawmakers have suggested a "Truth Commission" charged with investigating Bush Administration abuses and making recommendations on prosecutions. Others have suggested the hiring of a special prosecutor. Still others have argued that these two measures might create the impression of a partisan witch-hunt, and that we should proceed, cautiously, through existing mechanisms.
I am sensitive to the concerns that we not allow accountability to be confused with partisanship. True accountability should not be based on politics, but on a fair and impartial judgment against standards set forth in law. Even sharp policy differences should not be "criminalized." However, we must ensure that those differences do not take us beyond our country's basic values and the rule of law.
My guess is that efforts to achieve accountability will proceed along a number of courses. Congressional committees are well-equipped to carry out investigations of past abuses, and many have already been actively pursuing such inquiries. For example, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts has announced an ambitious plan of oversight hearings delving into Bush Administration abuses; the House Judiciary Committee has undertaken similar hearings. The Senate Armed Services Committee recently completed an "Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody," which you can access at the Committee's website: http://armed-services.senate.gov/Publications/Detainee%20Report%20Final_April%2022%202009.pdf. At the same time, both U.S. and international prosecutors have sought indictments for charges relating to detainee abuses. Most recently, Spanish courts indicted former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top Bush Administration aides for their role in approving abuses committed against Spanish citizens held at Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. In addition to these efforts, options such as a Truth Commission or a special prosecutor are still on the table.
As we move forward, I am committed to pursuing accountability in a way that is not partisan but fair and rooted in the law. Again, I appreciate hearing from you. I hope you will continue to keep in touch on these and other issues before the Congress.