WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid today moved to discourage calls for an independent "truth commission" to delve into harsh interrogation tactics the Bush administration approved to be conducted on terror suspects, saying the Senate should finish its own investigation first.
Reid said the Senate Intelligence Committee will be allowed to complete an ongoing probe into the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, cramped confinement and other techniques that widely have been described as torture.
Reid, the Senate majority leader, said the committee’s work, being directed by chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would be finished later this year, and would serve as a basis for any further actions by Congress.
"I think it would be very unwise from my perspective to start having commissions, boards, tribunals, until we find out what the facts are," Reid said in a meeting with reporters. "I don’t know a better way of getting the facts than through the intelligence committee."
"Until we get that information we would all be better off just relaxing, understanding how difficult this is," Reid said.
Reid’s comments appeared to put him at odds with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democrats who have endorsed formation of a "truth commission" independent investigation into the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies.
President Barack Obama has called for the nation to move forward and not dwell on the past, although this week he left the door open to investigations of officials who devised and provided the legal underpinnings of the interrogation program.
"I don’t think there is division among Democrats," Reid said Thursday. " Justice must be served. Retribution should not be part of what we are talking about."
Reid’s comments came as lawmakers continued to wrangle over possible responses to new revelations about the interrogations , a topic that has been hotly debated since they were revealed several years ago as a tactic used to pry information from "high value" detainees.
The furor gained new life last week when the Obama administration released previously classified documents that described in detail the techniques that Justice Department attorneys in the Bush administration opined would not be legally considered "torture" if applied under supervision.
The CIA had briefed top House members and senators on its interrogation program in closed door briefings between 2002 and 2006, according to previous news reports that also were given new circulation this week.
Among the officials who were briefed were the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Pelosi also has acknowledged she had been told of the program.
Asked by reporters today, Reid declined to say whether he had been briefed on the interrogation techniques. As a Senate leader in those years he met with intelligence officials on a number of occasions, he said.
"I think it would be wrong for me to talk about what went on in those classified briefings," Reid said. "There were briefings on different subjects and when I disagreed with what was given to me I raised those objections."
Reid previously has denounced the use of waterboarding as torture.
Reid also repeated that he would withhold judgement on former Justice Department attorney Jay Bybee of Las Vegas until the Justice Department completes a long-awaited internal report.
Bybee, a former law professor at the Boyd School of Law at UNLV, has been linked to several controversial legal opinions on the interrogations when he served as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003.
Some Democrats and activists have called for Bybee to be impeached from his present post as a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sen, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., this week said Bybee should resign.
Reid and Sen,. John Ensign, R-Nev., promoted Bybee for a judgeship leading to his confirmation in 2003. Bybee’s involvement in the so-called "torture memos" surfaced two years later.
"It is pretty clear if people had known of his involvement in either drafting or approving these memoranda that his (Senate confirmation) hearing would have taken a lot longer and there are many people who have said he would not have been approved." Reid said.
Contact Stephens Media Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760