'This is going to be big,' says Sen. Whitehouse
UPDATED: Hearing now scheduled for Wed., March 4th...
By Brad Friedman on 2/25/2009, 10:13am PT  

[Updated at end of article, with details on hearing announced for next week.]

The Senate is quietly preparing plans to investigate allegations of torture under President George W. Bush, according to comments published Wednesday by Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The Senate Judiciary Committee could announce a hearing to consider various plans to probe allegations of torture as early as today, according to Salon's Mark Benjamin, citing Committee Chairman Pat Leahy and members of his staff.

Leahy's office told Raw Story Wednesday morning that a press release would be sent out shortly.

Sen. Whitehouse said he's "convinced" the investigation will move forward.

"Stay on this," he told Benjamin. "This is going to be big."

Whitehouse, Senator from Rhode Island, is "spearheading" the efforts, and as a member of both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, "is privy to information about interrogations he can't yet share," the magazine noted.

Neither Salon's nor RAW STORY's coverage made it completely clear whether the Senators are discussing an idea that is different from Leahy's previously-floated "Truth Commission" --- where immunity would be granted to many who testify, in questionable exchange for making "the truth" known --- though this investigation does seem to be distinct from that one. We'll try to keep our eye out for Leahy's press release today, in case it offers some clarity. [Update: See details of Leahy's announcement added at bottom of article.]

One point from Salon, also worth highlighting, is that the tenacious Sen. Whitehouse seems keen on using this investigation to help disprove the often asserted notion that the Bush, um, "enhanced interrogation" policies saved lives, despite the lack of evidence supporting that wishful thinking, and the growing body of evidence and testimony --- from those who actually know --- which plainly disputes it.

Retired Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba, who led the investigation of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, is quoted from a recent interview as disputing those who have claimed --- from the comfort of their keyboards --- that torture saved lives: "Some of those activities were actually not effective and those who thought so were in the academic or pristine settings of their offices," Taguba told Salon. "What would they know?"

Whitehouse adds: "It is important to prove the point, because they keep saying, 'We saved lives. We interrupted plans. We did this, that and the other.'...Well, when you drill down, there is never a fact there. It turns into fog and evasion."

Again, with Whitehouse on both the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, with access to much more information than has been made public to date, he oughta know. At least slightly more so than the Wingnuts who rule the public airwaves and, with it, the public "debate" on these issues to date.

UPDATE 1:34pm PT: On the Senate floor today, Leahy announced his plans for a hearing next Wednesday, March 4th at 10am ET (including a live webcast), called "Getting to the Truth Through a Nonpartisan Commission of Inquiry."

Details follow...As RAW STORY reports (with video):

He called his commission a "middle ground" for both sides of the aisle to meet in.

"Such a commission's objective would be to find the truth. People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for the purpose of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts, to know what happened and to make sure mistakes are not repeated," Leahy said. "While many are focused on whether crimes were committed, it is just as important to learn if significant mistakes were made, regardless of whether they can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury to be criminal conduct. We compound the serious mistakes already made if we limit our inquiry to criminal investigations and trials."
...
Though Leahy stressed that his commission would not be about just prosecuting criminal cases, Glenn Greenwald speculated that the presence of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island on any fact-finding war-crimes commission might result in prosecutions anyway. Whitehouse is on both the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committee.

"Critically, he is also a former federal and state prosecutor and thus instinctively considers lawbreaking to be wrong no matter who is doing the lawbreaking," writes Greenwald.