Obama's Truth-Commission Ideals Mesh With Congress's

President Obama, taking questions from reporters earlier today, fielded one on the possibility of a truth commission to investigate the Bush administration for potential abuses of wartime power, including torture. Obama seems essentially opposed to the idea (he repeated his axiom that it's better to look forward than back) and said such a commission shouldn't be a witch hunt--that, if it's done, it should be "done in a bipartisan fashion, outside of the typical hearing process that can sometimes break down and break it entirely along party lines, to the extent that there are independent participants who are above reproach and have credibility."

It turns out that's mostly what's being discussed in Congress.

There are two efforts underway to form such a commission--one being led by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and another by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Obama basically described what Conyers's bill (text here) lays out, which is: a nine-member commission, outside of Congress, with no more than five members from one political party. One would be appointed by the president, two each by the House and Senate majority and minority leaders. There is also a clause providing that the members should have "national recognition and significant depth of experience in such professions as governmental service, law enforcement, the armed services, constitutional law, civil liberties, intelligence gathering, national security, and foreign affairs." There doesn't appear to be a clause prohibiting sitting members of Congress from being appointed--one difference from Obama's stipulations, depending on how you interpret what he said.

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Leahy does not have a specific plan drafted, but is talking to people about it according to a committee staffer. His office just released a statement agreeing with Obama's premises: "I agree with President Obama: an examination into these Bush-Cheney era national security policies must be nonpartisan. This is in line with what I have proposed through an independent Commission of Inquiry," Leahy said.

So, really, Obama and congressional truth-commission-seekers are on the same page--except in the important area of whether such a truth commission should be formed in the first place.

And Conyers, for his part, seems to be pretty far from the administration's thinking on the value of looking back: in a statement Friday, he said he did "not understand" Obama's statements on the relase of Bush-era memos, and that "there is only one way to prevent torture"--a full investigation of the past.

UPDATE: If a commission is created, President Obama would prefer it to be modeled after the 9/11 Commission (after which Conyers's plan is modeled), White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily press briefing this afternoon. Gibbs's quote, according to a transcript from the White House press office:

I think that the President would see a 9/11 Commission as a -- to be, in all honesty, a model for how any investigation or commission might be set up because I think we can all understand that the 9/11 Commission was comprised of very respected members that, despite being Democrats or Republicans, put their party identification away in order to answer some very serious questions.

The 9/11 Commission, comprised of former lawmakers and private-sector policy experts (list of members here), served as a model for Conyers's plan when it was drafted, according to House Judiciary Committee spokesman Jonathan Godfrey.