Thursday, March 5, 2009

A post-9/11 torture commission for the US?

There has been talk recently about establishing a commission to look at the Bush administration's approach to national security issues - especially torture.

Indeed, it is an idea which is garnering interest at both the high-level official and public levels in the US. The Senate Judiciary Committee will soon begin a study of how to go about investigating the use of torture by US forces during the Bush administration. A February Gallup poll showed that 62 percent of Americans support either the prosecution or investigation of Bush administration officials for torture. And despite President Obama's apparent neutrality over the issue, it has been noted that the Obama team has carefully considered the idea.

The prospect of such a commission is extraordinary, for more than one reason. It would be a symbol that the period during which such policies as torture were condoned and publicly excused is not to be swept under the carpet. Exposing the breadth and details of how a regime justified and conducted itself under the guise of public protection may facilitate public reflection on what happens when fear and hatred become tools for political manipulation. It may provide a measure of justice for victims of human rights abuses. And, over time, a commission on torture may lead to stronger debates about what can happen when people are demonised and turned into a threatening 'other'.

But is it likely to go ahead? What are the domestic and international implications of such a commission? Would President Obama, who has invested so much of his image in bridging the politics divide in the US, really support a commission which has the potential to isolate Republicans (especially if Congress has anything to do with any commission) who will label the whole thing a political witch hunt?

Let's see...

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