Congress Can Probe Bush Administration

President Barack Obama may be reluctant to investigate past actions of the Bush administration, but Congress can do it on its own. Congress initiated the investigation into Watergate as well as the Iran-Contra scandal.


The eyes of the nation and the world are on the Obama administration to learn which policies they will keep from the Bush years and which ones it will scrap. Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr points out that on some matters, there's a stiff debate about what it means to move on.

DANIEL SCHORR: John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a month ago, proposed a grand inquest into the misdeeds of the Bush administration. President Barack Obama says he prefers to look forward. But issues like wire tapping, the mistreatment of terrorism suspects and the transfer of detainees to foreign countries have not gone away.

And now, Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed in a speech at Georgetown University that there'd be a bipartisan inquiry on the model of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Panel that documented the misdeeds of the apartheid regime. President Obama, absorbed in pushing the economic stimulus plan, is still giving the idea no encouragement.

At his news conference on Monday evening he said, I'm more interested in looking forward than in looking backward. On the day after his inauguration, Mr. Obama issued a memorandum to all government agencies calling for affirmative steps to make information public. He said that all agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure. But this was apparently intended to set rules for the incoming administration, made no reference to what had come before.

Nor does the Justice Department seem much interested in laying bare the controversial acts of the Bush administration. Attorney General Eric Holder promised to review the Bush administration's use of the state secrets privilege to shield its actions. But last week, the Justice Department cited that privilege in moving to block a lawsuit seeking documents on extraordinary renditions - the practice of sending detainees to prisons in foreign countries.

The Obama White House, which sits on the documentary record of the Bush administration's cutting of constitutional corners, has so far indicated no willingness to release the documents. Nothing prevents the congressional Democrats from mounting an inquiry without presidential approval. After all, some famous probes, like the Senate Watergate investigation and the inquiry into the Iran-Contra scandal were initiated by Congress. That could and maybe should happen again.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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