Public Opinion and the Truth Commission

I wanted to comment briefly on a topic that came up during my appearance on VPR’s with Jane Lindholm this afternoon. At some point I referenced Gallup Poll data on Senator Leahy’s proposal to create a “Truth Commission” to investigate various facets of Bush’s handling of the war on terror.  I noted that the data showed Americans were divided over how to proceed.

Here’s the Gallup Poll data I referenced.

Jane (who was a very gracious and well-informed host) quite understandably suggested that the data also showed that most Americans supported some type of inquiry into Bush’s handling of the war and terror. But that is not the same as saying 60% of Americans support ANY type of investigation into  Bush’s handling of these issues. As longtime readers of this blog understand, polling data like this has to be interpreted with care. In particular, we need to be careful not to collapse answers into one category when they are providing different response options. In this case, we can’t infer that those who support Leahy’s “middle way” of investigation by an independent panel would automatically opt for a criminal investigation if the Leahy option was removed. It’s quite possible that, given a choice between a criminal investigation or no investigation at all, that at least some of these respondents would prefer no investigation at all.  And that’s why I think it is a mistake to suggest that some 60% of Americans support Leahy’s proposal, as some media outlets are suggesting. Given the time constraints, and the topic, I didn’t think it appropriate to clarify the polling data during the Vermont Edition segment. But you should be on guard for media outlets that interpret the data the way Leahy reports it in his own op-ed piece in Time magazine: “A recent USA Today/Gallup poll showed that more than 60% of Americans agree that investigating the failed national-security policies of the past eight years should be considered:”  In fact, the Gallup question said nothing about “failed policies”.  And the data could as easily be reported as 60% of Americans oppose criminal investigations into the Bush war on terror.  As a general rule of thumb, it’s best not to say more than the polling questions has asked for.

The broader point I tried to make today is that beginning a search for “truth” with the presumption that Bush and/or his appointees are guilty of crimes is probably not going to produce much agreement, never mind reconciliation.  This is not to say that Congress has no obligation to hold the executive branch accountable for past actions.  But my guess is that there won’t be much support in Congress for Leahy’s proposal, particularly since members of Congress,including Democrats, were briefed on various parts of the War on Terror.  Keep in mind that many of these issues have been already thoroughly debated, and others are currently subject to criminal proceedings and separate inquiries.

Careful listeners will note that Jane preempted my use of the word “cowbell” – clearly she peeked at the  blog and was determined to beat me to the punch. I should send her a “It’s the Fundamentals, Stupid” t-shirt.  As it was, I was so flustered I forgot to talk about her show as a radio “juggernaut”, and of course completely missed the obvious “the truth commission has the faint aroma of a political ploy.”

I’ll be on later tonight with an attempt to live blog Obama’s speech.


  1. I’m fascinated by the fact that the media, commentators, et al are completely ignoring a very considerable movement to have George W. Bush and other high government officials prosecuted for murder, i.e. for sending troops into harms way, under false pretenses, with no concern for the consequences. Vincent Bugliosi, in his book, The Prosecution of George Bush for Murder, brilliantly argues both the evidence and the legal framework for this approach. (At the very least, Bush could be prosecuted for second degree murder, i.e an intent to do a highly dangerous act with reckless disregard and indifference to human life.”) If Congress, once again, falls on its face (as it did on impeachment), it may be left to a DA in one of the 50 states to take up this prosecution. So far, I’m the only lawyer who has stepped forward (in my Vermont race for AG) but I know there are others who are considering Bugliosi’s challenge right now. (2,400 DAs now have his book) Your comments? (And please, folks, don’t say Vermont didn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute. It did and so do the other states. Explanation is on my website) I’d love to see a debate on this. CD

  2. HI Charlotte,

    One of the difficulties anyone will have in prosecuting Bush for murder is the fact that the joint resolution authorizing Bush to use force in Iraq passed the Senate by a margin of 77-23 (including a majority of Democrats who voted for it by 29-21), and the House by 297-133 (with 82 Democrats in favor and 126 against). So do you prosecute these individuals as well, some of whom (such as Hillary Clinton) occupy important posts in the Obama administration?

  3. Matthew: Congress was lied to and so its consent was fraudulently obtained. To use the legal term, fraud vitiates consent. In fact, , some of Bush’s major
    deceptions occurred right before Congress took a vote on the war. If you read Bugliosi’s book, you will see that Bush went onTV arguing (on October 6) that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to our national security when only a few days earlier, his own intelligence organizations stated, ina classified report, that Hussein was NOT an imminent threat. Shortly afterwards, the Bush Administration declassified portions of that intelligence report so it could be disseminated to the public , but deleted the section that said Hussein was not a threat. So Congress and the American people were misled right on the eve of that historic vote in Congress. Bugliosi has thought through every conceivable objection to his proposition of prosecuting Bush, and, as one of the nation’s premier criminal prosecutors (and true crime authors, Helter Skelter being his most famous book) he is worth listening to. The title of his book is shocking, but when you read his legal arguments and his evidence, it is persuasive, which is why he was invited to address the Massachusetts School of Law Conference last Sept, held in honor of the US top prosecutor at Nuremberg(“The Justice Robert h. Jackson Conference: PLanning for the Proseuction of High Level American War Criminals”). It was well attended by lawyers and law students from all over the country. I have the CD of Bugliosi’s presentation. The exchange is fascinating, Iassure you. Why not show the video in your class and then have a discussion? I can be reached at (802) 644-5898

  4. Charlotte,

    You say George Bush should be prosecuted for murder because he put soldiers in harms way, lied to do it and disregarded the consequences? Surprisingly, there’s always a slight chance of people losing their lives during wars/military engagements– I know, shocking.
    Additionally, there was no draft. The soldiers and marines involved made a tremendous sacrifice by enlisting into service and defending the country on their own accord. Instead of viciously condemning the whole issue, maybe you should extend some gratitude for the ones defending the liberties and lives of people like yourself. If not, I guess we should have prosecuted JFK for miscalculating the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He must of had no concern for the consequences and had reckless disregard for human life. Or better yet, maybe we should have prosecuted his administration for the Vietnam War– especially since conscription forced so many Americans into “military slavery”.

    Good for you, its great PR to sell books for Vincent Bugliosi. It also sounds like he is a brilliant mind who, like yourself, is clearly politically unbiased and has a lot of popular support among his peers [How many other lawyers are enthusiastically supporting you on this issue in your Vermont race again?]… I guess if something is written in a book or said in the media, there’s no chance of it not being completely 100% true. After all, facts could never be manipulated to serve some other end. It’s not like radically extreme movies or books would ever be made implicating George Bush as the one behind 9/11, especially since everything in text or in the media is true.

    You say that you are fascinated by how the media is ignoring this issue. What a shame. They must be too caught up in spreading their absurdly leftist propaganda or strategically presenting the new “stimulus bill” in an inaccurate way to sugarcoat it– or too busy trying to silence political commentators with any remnants of conservative beliefs.

    In conclusion, here are some other things previously issued or not properly addressed by the media… Guantanamo Bay was found to be like “club-med” with no violations and very accommodating. I think one congressman said better than situation in US prisons….and ironically…Obama has upheld Bush’s tactics of imprisonment and
    perhaps even “high pressured questioning” [torture] in Afghanistan… Why? – Because they are reasonable and necessary—no press coverage

    The press has no credibility…they should report the news, not filter it
    or editorialize it… If they want to editorialize they should label it just
    that so people like Charlotte aren’t as easily sucked in….Bush was not perfect, but what is done is done. The risk reward of the entire ordeal is not really known because because the press does not report the facts..they paint a picture of what they want to.

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