A Truth Commission Just Won’t Work

By Ali Frick

I was excited to see Jamelle’s post below because we always need more people discussing torture and what happened under the last administration, and making people face the reality of it. But I disagree that a truth commission would work, or even be useful.

The idea is that, with prosecutions off the table, people would be willing to talk. But why? What incentive would any member of the previous administration possibly have to talk about torture? Part of the idea behind a fair commission plus pardon, according to Jonathan Bernstein, would be that conservatives would be more willing to accept the findings. Subpoenaing compelled testimony at such a commission would presumably undercut this goal. So without subpoenas, why would any conservative testify?

Alternatively, conservatives might be thrilled to testify — in order to bolster the cause for torture. Hardly ashamed of what happened, the Republican party has embraced torture as a key part of its national security strategy. They really, really like torture. (See, e.g., the so-called Jack Bauer candidates the party is current fielding.)

What’s more, we already know what happened, and we know how disastrous it was. And we’ve already had a formal, fact-finding body issue comprehensive revelations about Bush’s torture program.

I agree with Jamelle, and just about everyone else, that prosecutions seem politically impossible / never going to happen. Which is incredibly frustrating. But a Truth Commission wouldn’t really accomplish anything. What we need is for Democrats/progressives to run on this issue, discuss it as a moral imperative, and set up real anti-torture legislation with teeth that circumscribes the executive’s discretion to order whatever illegal activity he sees fit.