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Sen. Leahy’s efforts to launch an anti-Bush “truth commission” are being dismissed as a fiasco. But they included some intelligent moments as well, as when for instance George Mason law professor (and longtime TAS contributor) Jeremy Rabkin presented his opening statement. An excerpt (full statement is appended in Comments):
…Suppose, after 9/11, the Bush administration had established an “investigating commission” to identify persons responsible for rallying support for terrorist networks, for raising funds, organizing false identities and providing other forms of assistance for terrorist networks. Suppose in the interest of informing the public, the commission had been authorized to publish its findings and name names of individual suspects. Surely, such a procedures would have been denounced by civil libertarians. Where there is enough evidence for criminal prosecution, they would have said, the government should secure indictments and proceed with criminal prosecution. Where there is not such evidence, the government should keep silent. Otherwise, the government can destroy reputations and inflict terrible damage on people’s careers and livelihoods, without giving them any real way of defending themselves against reckless or ill-founded accusations.
How is the proposed “truth commission” any less objectionable, from the standpoint of due process? One might argue that government officials should be more accountable because they volunteered to accept special responsibilities to the public when they assumed their offices. But one can argue, on the other hand, that if we want capable and reputable people to assume public office, we have to treat them with at a modicum of respect and fair dealing. I think it is very hard to justify imposing on public officials what we have not been willing to impose on terror suspects.
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