Whitehouse: To Fix Damage Left by Bush, We Must Learn the Truth

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, during my brief tenure so far in the Senate, the Judiciary Committee has confronted many difficult issues - battles over judicial nominations, complex legislative matters, the historic investigation into misdeeds of the Bush Administration's Department of Justice.

In that process, the Committee saw U.S. Attorneys fired for political reasons, we saw the Civil Rights Division run amok, we saw declassified legal theories asserting that the President can secretly ignore his own executive orders, we saw unprecedented politicization of a noble Department, and, of course, we saw those Office of Legal Counsel memos approving interrogation techniques long understood - long known - to be torture.

Fortunately, throughout that time, Chairman Leahy sought answers. His efforts were even-handed but unyielding. We know so much of what we know now because Patrick Leahy was satisfied with nothing less than the whole truth. Today, his work continues, and I want to speak in support of his efforts.

Mr. President, the backdrop to this is of course a grim one. Over and over as I travel around my state of Rhode Island, I hear from people facing challenges that seem almost insurmountable; challenges that President Obama spoke about in his address to Congress yesterday. Every day, it gets harder and harder to find a job, to pay the bills, to make ends meet. Every day, it seems more difficult to see a way out.

The Bush Administration left our country deeply in debt, bleeding jobs overseas, our financial institutions rotten and weakened, an economy in free fall. This is the wreckage we see everywhere, in shuttered plants - as my colleague from Pennsylvania sees at home so cruelly - in long lines, and in worried faces.

But there is also damage that we cannot see so well, the damage below the waterline of our democracy - damage caused, I believe, by a systematic effort to twist policy to suit political ends; to substitute ideology for science, fact, and law; and to misuse instruments of power.

If an administration rigged the intelligence process and on faulty intelligence sent our country to war;

If an administration descended to interrogation techniques of the Inquisition, of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge - descended to techniques that we have prosecuted as crimes in military tribunals and in federal courts;

If institutions as noble as the Department of Justice and as vital as the Environmental Protection Agency were subverted by their own leaders;

If the integrity of our markets and the fiscal security of our budget were opened wide to the frenzied greed of corporations, and speculators and contractors;

If taxpayers were cheated, and the forces of government rode to the rescue of the cheaters and punished the whistleblowers;

If our government turned the guns of official secrecy against our own people to mislead, confuse and propagandize them;

If the integrity of public officials; the warnings of science; the honesty of government procedures; and the careful historic balance of our separated powers, all were seen as obstacles to be overcome and not attributes to be celebrated;

If the purpose of government became no longer to solve problems, but simply to work them for political advantage, and a bodyguard of lies, jargon, and propaganda were emitted to fool and beguile the American people...

Well, something very serious would have gone wrong in our country - and such damage must be repaired. I submit that as we begin the task of rebuilding this nation, we have a duty to our country to determine how great that damage is.

Democracy is not a static institution, it is a living education - an ongoing education in freedom of a people. As Harry Truman said addressing a joint session of Congress back in 1947, "One of the chief virtues of a democracy is that its defects are always visible, and under democratic processes can be pointed out and corrected." We have to learn the lessons from this past carnival of folly, greed, lies, and wrongdoing, so that the damage can, under democratic processes, be pointed out and corrected.

If we blind ourselves to this history, we deny ourselves its lessons - lessons that came at too painful a cost to ignore. Those lessons merit disclosure and discussion. Indeed, disclosure and discussion make the difference between this history being a valuable lesson for the bright and upward forces of our democracy, or a blueprint for those darker forces to return and someday do it all over again.

As we work toward a brighter future ahead, to days when jobs return to our cities, capital to our businesses, and security to our lives, we cannot set aside our responsibility to take an accounting of where we are, what was done, and what must now be repaired.

We also have to brace ourselves for the realistic possibility that as some of this conduct is exposed, we and the world will find it shameful, revolting. We may have to face the prospect of looking with horror at our own country's deeds. We are optimists, we Americans; we are proud of our country. Contrition comes hard to us.

But the path back from the dark side may lead us down some unfamiliar valleys of remorse and repugnance before we can return to the light. We may have to face our fellow Americans saying to us, "No, please, tell us that we did not do that, tell us that Americans did not do that" - and we will have to explain, somehow. This is no small thing, and not easy; this will not be comfortable or proud; but somehow it must be done.

Chairman Leahy has embarked on the process of considering a new commission; one appropriate to the task of investigating the damage the Bush Administration did to America, to her finest traditions and institutions, to her reputation and integrity. The hearing he's called in coming days will more thoroughly examine this question, to help us determine how best to move forward. I stand with him. Before we can repair the harm of the last eight years, we must learn the truth.

I thank the presiding officer and I yield the floor.