June 26, 2009
While a truth commission to examine the crimes of the Bush administration has a certain appeal "" especially if there's not going to be a tough special prosecutor bringing criminal charges--there still would be the issue of who could fill the job of getting at the truth.
That's because over the past three decades, the Washington media/political establishment has shown itself stunningly inept at conducting serious inquiries that can penetrate even the most implausible cover stories if a probe's target has influential friends in high places.
Instead, investigations into difficult questions have usually settled for politically convenient half-answers, especially when the Democratic love of bipartisanship confronts Republican anger over holding accountable someone like Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney or George W. Bush.
Take, for instance, CIA Director Leon Panetta's musings to New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer about a possible truth commission and what could make such a panel acceptable.
"I'm not big on commissions," Panetta told Mayer. "On the other hand, I could see that it might make some sense, frankly, to appoint a high-level commission, with somebody like Sandra Day O'Connor, Lee Hamilton--people like that."
Both O'Connor and Hamilton have faced tough political choices in their careers and opted for what was then regarded as the safe path--which it may have been for them although the United States and the world suffered grievously from their failures of courage and foresight.
O'Connor famously twisted legal logic in December 2000 to justify overriding the electoral judgment of the American people nationwide and denying the voters of Florida an honest counting of their ballots to achieve the partisan goal of putting George W. Bush in the White House. [For details, see our book Neck Deep or Consortiumnews.com's "A Time Machine to Save America."]
GOP Go-to Guy
Meanwhile, Hamilton has been the go-to guy for the Republicans whenever they want a Democrat who won't push too hard to shatter a fragile cover-up. He is a master of conducting investigations not in pursuit of truth but in a quest for a politically acceptable solution.
My first dealings with a Hamilton investigation came in August 1986 when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and it fell to him to investigate allegations that I had reported for the Associated Press about White House aide Oliver North providing secret support for the Nicaraguan contra rebels.
Hamilton led a delegation of committee members (including then-Rep. Dick Cheney) down to the White House Situation Room where North and his boss John Poindexter were asked about the allegations. Their emphatic denials were accepted as true, and Hamilton joined with other committee members in agreeing to conduct no deeper investigation.
The bipartisan decision pleased many people in Washington "" though not me and a few others who had worked hard to expose North's clandestine network.
Thanks to Hamilton, North and his team almost escaped unharmed, except that one of their last supply planes was shot down over Nicaragua on Oct. 5, 1986, and one survivor, Eugene Hasenfus, pointed the finger at the White House and especially the office of Vice President Bush. A month later, the Iran arms sales side of the Iran-Contra scandal surfaced in a Lebanese newspaper.
Soon, the "wise" heads of Washington were put together to figure out how to finesse this unseemly scandal of high-level arms trafficking, money-laundering, law-breaking, lying and indirect negotiations with terrorists. Lee Hamilton was again tapped to run the House side of the Iran-Contra probe and again was desperately seeking a bipartisan consensus.