Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, floated the idea in a major speech at Georgetown University of creating a "truth commission" to investigate the Bush administration's Department of Justice. Later, at a press conference, President Obama did not embrace the idea saying, "I will take a look at Sen. Leahy's proposal, but my general orientation is to say, let's get it right moving forward."
"The reluctance to look back is disturbing," says Jen Nessel of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a group representing several detainees at Guantanamo. "Prosecutions may be the only way we are going to be able to ensure that we don't do this again down the road."
Last week, a Pentagon review of the conditions at the Guantanamo Bay detention center conducted by Adm. Patrick M. Walsh infuriated human rights activists because it found the conditions at Guantanamo to be in compliance with the Geneva Conventions. Tom Parker of Amnesty International released a statement, "It comes as no surprise that the Pentagon would say Guantanamo meets international human rights standards. However, there have been many well-documented accounts of abuse at Guantanamo over the past few years. When over 200 prisoners continue to be held without charge or trial -- many for more than six years, with scores in isolation and concerns about dozens on hunger strike -- it's clear the abuse of prisoners continues."
Others were concerned that the executive orders issued by the Obama administration could be less sweeping then they appear because they have a built in review process. During his confirmation hearing, CIA Director Leon Panetta, said that the executive order limiting the use of interrogation techniques to those included in the Army Field Manuel could be revised. "There is a review process that's built into that executive order that I am going to be a part of that will look at those kinds of enhanced techniques to determine how effective they were or weren't and whether any appropriate revisions need to be made as a result of that," Panetta said.
Nessel replied: "The executive orders seem to contain loop holes and lack of details."
Other groups have filed Freedom of Information Act law suits, attempting to get public access to Bush-era legal memos on issues such as interrogation techniques and wiretapping. The Obama administration has requested a delay in turning over some of the documents.
But supporters of the Obama administration say it is far too premature to make judgments to his commitment to radically change the way the Bush administration carried out its legal war on terror. They point out that the administration is thoroughly reviewing the case of every detainee. White House Counsel Greg Craig spent part of last week at Guantanamo in advance of Monday's trip by Eric Holder.
At Panetta's swearing-in ceremony at CIA Headquarters, Vice President Biden gave a rousing speech to CIA employees saying that the executive orders signed in the first week of office will "reverse the policies that in my view and the view of many in this agency caused America to fall short of its founding principles" and gave al Qaeda a "powerful recruiting tool."
And as Holder visits Gitmo for the first time, there are major deadlines for important cases approaching that could better define what the administration's position is going to be on the legal war on terror.