The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says his panel will investigate Bush administration detainee interrogation policies if congressional support is lacking for an independent inquiry into the matter. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy's comments came in reaction to a Senate report released Wednesday that concludes that military and intelligence officials under the Bush administration were being trained in the use harsh interrogation techniques months before they were legally authorized to use them.
The report by the Senate Armed Services Committee finds that intelligence and military officials began preparing to conduct extreme interrogation techniques on al-Qaida and Taliban detainees in early 2002, months before the Justice Department approved the use of such practices.
The report was completed last November but has been under Pentagon review for declassification.
Critics say many of the harsh interrogation practices, including water-boarding or simulated drowning, amount to torture.
Committee chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, says the report shows that senior civilian officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques. He says those officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses of detainees.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman says Defense Department inquiries offer a different conclusion.
"In those internal investigations, we have not found any policies of the department that ever permitted or condoned abusive treatment of detainees," said Bryan Whitman. "Our policy has been one of treating detainees humanely."
Whitman says his department takes any allegation of abuse seriously.
"All credible allegations of abuse have been thoroughly investigated and individuals found to be acting outside of our proscribed policies, they have been held accountable for their actions," he said.
But critics argue that lower-level officials were held responsible for policies crafted by senior Bush administration officials, whom they say should also be held accountable.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reiterated his call for a nonpartisan commission to look into the use of extreme interrogation techniques. Leahy says if there is not enough congressional support for such a panel, he will hold his own hearings.
"Sometimes the best way to move forward is to find out the truth, find out what happened, and we do that to make sure it never happens again," said Senator Leahy.
President Barack Obama Tuesday opened the door for potential prosecution of those who drafted the legal decisions that allowed for the harsh interrogations.
Republicans strongly oppose the idea. Senator John Ensign is a Nevada Republican:
"To look at prosecuting some in the Bush administration sends chills through the intelligence community," said Senator Ensign.
Two Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who calls himself an Independent Democrat, sent a letter to President Obama urging him not to prosecute officials who offered legal advice on detainee interrogations. They say pursuing such prosecutions would have serious negative effects on the candor with which officials in any administration provide their best advice.