Leahy Will Defy Obama to Pursue Bush-Era Torture Inquiry

By Kate Barrett

Apr 22, 2009 11:48am

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf reports from Capitol Hill: Sen. Patrick Leahy pledged today that if he cannot get the votes to create a bipartisan commission to investigate U.S. torture policy under former President George W. Bush — and regardless of calls by President Obama that any inquiry be bipartisan — he’ll conduct his own partisan inquiry in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Leahy’s comments after a press conference on Capitol Hill today exposed a growing rift between Democrats in Congress and the White House on how to seek accountability from Bush-era Justice officials for condoning torture in the aftermath of 9/11.

President Obama is dancing around the issue, not condoning an inquiry into the terror policies, but requesting that if such an inquiry took place it should be bipartisan.

Obama said Tuesday that he’d like for Congress to "examine ways that it can be done in a bipartisan fashion, outside of the typical hearing process that can sometimes break down and break it entirely along party lines."

"I’m not suggesting that that should be done, but I’m saying, if you’ve got a choice, I think it’s very important for the American people to feel as if this is not being dealt with to provide one side or another political advantage but rather is being done in order to learn some lessons so that we move forward in an effective way," Obama said.

But a bipartisan commission needs support from both parties. And Republicans do not seem inclined to offer theirs any time soon.

Today, Leahy said if he cannot get votes from Republicans for a bipartisan commission, he’ll hold his inquiry in just the "normal hearing process" that Obama warned against.

Leahy called a hearing of the Judiciary Committee in March to explore how to form a special commission to investigate torture policy under President Bush. Back then, President Obama seemed opposed to the commission. Obama said at the time he was more interested in looking forward.

But there has been renewed scrutiny of potential wrongdoing surrounding interrogation policy since the Obama administration released memos drafted by the Justice Department under President Bush that seem to condone and justify torture. That has prompted Obama to sound more open to the commission and Leahy to sound more determined to hold an inquiry, bipartisan or not.

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