Momentum Gathering for Senate Commission to Investigate US Torture

On Tuesday,'s Mark Benjamin reported that US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is moving forward with with a commission to investigate torture during the Bush administration.

Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., told Salon Tuesday that his panel would soon announce a hearing to study various commission plans. His staff said the announcement could come as early as Wednesday.

Yesterday, on Wednesday, Leahy did, in fact, schedule a hearing on commission plans, so the work on forming a commission is proceeding apace. Senator Leahy's strongest Senate ally in the call for a torture commission is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—whose first public announcement of support for a torture commission was at PHR's National Student Conference earlier this month.

"As a member of both the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee," Benjamin reported,

Whitehouse is privy to information about interrogations he can't yet share. Still, regarding a potential torture commission, he told Salon, "I am convinced it is going to happen." In fact, his fervor on the issue was palpable. When asked if there is a lot the public still does not know about these issues during the Bush administration, his eyes grew large and he nodded slowly. "Stay on this," he said. "This is going to be big."

Though President Obama has expressed some hesitation over the idea of a commission, Whitehouse is confident that the President will come around.

Besides, he said, "When push comes to shove, we are the legislative branch of government. We have oversight responsibilities. And we don't need the executive branch's approval to look into these things just as a constitutional matter."

PHR members have played a major role in bringing a commission this close to reality, and we will be calling on members for help as we work to shape the commission to include medical complicity and a focus on the victims of torture.

At the PHR National Student Conference at Brown University, on February 1, 2009, PHR CEO Frank Donaghue gave US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse postcards from PHR students, asking Congress to establish a commission to fully investigate and publically report on US torture.



Ben Greenberg/PHR

We are in regular contact with Leahy and Whitehouse staffers and will be active participants in the process going forward.

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