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Thomas Pickering and William Sessions: “Why a Presidential Commission on Torture Is Critical to America’s Security”

Thomas R. Pickering

Thomas R. Pickering

In case you missed it, former US Ambassador for the United Nations, Thomas R. Pickering, and former FBI Director, William S. Sessions, had an op ed in Monday’s Washington Post arguing in favor of the creation of a presidential commission to investigate the behavior of American officials in the post-9/11 world. They explain:

America needs President Obama to name a nonpartisan commission to investigate the post-Sept. 11 policies and actions regarding the detention, treatment and transfer of security detainees. The mandate of this commission would not be to conduct a criminal investigation; that is the job of our criminal justice system. Rather, this commission would serve the vital purpose of presenting a full picture of policies and actions that followed the 2001 terrorist attacks. We must understand how we got where we are today to ensure that we correct our past mistakes and change our policies going forward.

Taking this step would be fully consistent with President Obama’s commitment to move our country beyond the policies of the past to begin restoring the rule of law.

The chairmen of both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees have called for the creation of a commission to investigate our country’s actions after Sept. 11, including examining questions regarding the detention, treatment and transfer of prisoners. We commend them for their commitment to ensuring a full understanding of what happened and what was authorized in Americans’ names. We believe that a presidential commission is the best way to accomplish this goal. It could move forward quickly and provide the public with the objective and nonpartisan answers that our country needs.

It is in the interest of our nation’s security that President Obama should immediately appoint such a commission. To move ahead, make our country safer and strengthen the leadership position of the United States, we must have a full understanding of detainee policies and their consequences. Only then can we prevent any mistakes of the past from being repeated.

Williams S. Sessions

Williams S. Sessions

A couple of comments. First, it is interesting that they do not use the phrase “truth commission”– thus avoiding all that is associated with traditional truth commissions. Second, it is critical that they use the word “nonpartisan” and not “bipartisan.” Some times in the United States, we have the tendency to think in terms of a bipartisan commision– with more or less equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. The 9/11 Commission was a “bipartisan” commission. A “nonpartisan” commission would be a body where party affiliation would not be a factor per se. Members would be selected because of their expertise and integrity. Undoubtedly, there would be some members who would be from both major parties, but their party affiliation would not necessarily be widely known. And there would be some individuals who would actually have no party affiliation– true independents. This makes a great deal of sense– especially since we should be able to conduct a legal analysis without respect to party.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.