More on Conyers’ Proposed War Powers and Civil Liberties Commission

by Chris Borgen

Deborah has already mentioned the bill introduced this week by Rep. John Conyers for a National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties, which has been likened in the popular press to a truth and reconciliation commission. (A draft version of the bill is available here.)  I think this is a somewhat inaccurate description. 

Truth commissions are often focused  on understanding the past and moving forward by “reconciling” the parties that have been in conflict.  Amnesties often play a big role in truth and reconciliation commissions. In my quick flip through the bill, I didn’t notice anything about amnesties. I did notice quite a bit about Commission having subpoena power and the punishment of refusing to comply with a Commission subpoena. Ultimately, the Commission will write a preliminary and a final report of its findings, including recommendations for “corrective measures” and further action.

If anything, this seems a little less like a truth and reconciliation commission than a “truth and clean-up commission.” That is, this is less about reconciling and making nice purely in order to make nice, and more about figuring out exactly what happened under the guise of unreviewable war powers so that we can try and clean up the mess that is being left behind by the Bush Administration.

In any case, however you describe this bill, it doesn’t seem to have much traction at the moment, according to this piece in Talking Points Memo

I also note this update on TPM:

HuffPo spotted a Conyers appearance on the Bill Press show, in which the lawmaker suggests that the best forum for investigating Bush administration crimes may be the World Court or another international body.

Given that our current (still) president rejected the International Criminal Court– though he had at least one kumbaya moment with the U.N. International Court of Justice — it would be deliciously ironic to see Bush finally face the music on an international level. Still, wouldn’t a domestically convened panel be the best, and most cathartic, venue for an inquiry like this?

Here’s the Conyers quote:

“I don’t want to get too speculative on that, because it’s still under review,” said Conyers on the radio show. “Now, remember, violation of the federal criminal code doesn’t end because you leave office. If a crime has been committed and there seems to be reasonable evidence that it did get committed, there’s nothing for a person to be prosecuted… Leaving office doesn’t free you up from what you may have done wrong … Anyone that leaves office, including [the] President … there’s the World Court … They have tribunals … This thing is not over with. As they say: Stay tuned.”

Given these quotes, I think it is important that groups like the ASIL remain engaged in educating Congress and journalists (as well as the general public) about things like the jurisdictional and evidentiary limits international courts.

http://opiniojuris.org/2009/01/10/more-on-conyers-proposed-war-powers-and-civil-liberties-commission/

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