Truth commission needed

Four secret Bush-era Justice Department memos and a 2008 Senate report, now made public, lay out in shocking detail the reckless lawlessness at the highest levels of the administration of President George W. Bush.

They show that, under the direction of top officials, in early 2002 a program to train U.S. soldiers to defendthemselves from torture was turned into an aggressive “crash course” to administer torture to foreign prisoners held by the U.S.

Rep. John Conyers, House Judiciary Committee chair, said, “The fact that these memos were authored and approved by senior lawyers of the Department of Justice challenges the very notion that we adhere to the rule of law in this country.”

Of course the basics are not news.

More than four years ago, we ran a story headlined, It reported on documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The documents indicated that Bush had issued an Executive Order authorizing use of extreme coercive measures barred by international law in interrogation of prisoners. Other documents showed that Alberto Gonzales, then White House counsel, and top Justice Department lawyers advised that the Geneva Conventions outlawing torture were “quaint,” “obsolete” and did not apply to detainees held by the U.S. in Guantanamo or elsewhere.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said at the time, “These documents raise grave questions about where the blame for widespread detainee abuse ultimately rests. Top government officials can no longer hide from public scrutiny by pointing the finger at a few low-ranking soldiers.”

But as we know, they did hide from public scrutiny.

Now the question is, what to do about it.

President Obama, rightly we believe, says the nation has to look forward rather than backward. At the same time he suggested the possibility of “a further accounting” of the torture scandal and urged it be done in a bipartisan fashion.

That approach was endorsed by Conyers, who called for appointment of a “non-partisan truth-telling commission.”

The Obama administration has begun the task of repairing the vast damage done by the Bush administration. The architects of that damage should be held accountable. The goal should be “to learn some lessons so that we move forward,” the president said. We agree.