Proper probes of the many suspected crimes and abuses of the Bush years must have two qualities that are easy to describe and hard to achieve: (1) independence (which lends credibility), and (2) authority, which lets them get at the truth.
First, they must be independent from politics, both in public perception and in fact. This means no involvement by the White House or Congress. No Senate or House committee “investigations.” No useless Ethics Committee inquiries.
What about the Justice Department? They’re supposed to do this stuff. But, Republicans would scream “witch-hunt,” and, though that’s pretty rich coming from the party that turned the justice system over to Carl Rove to use as a campaign tool, public perception does matter. Also, DOJ is subject to pressure from the Obama White House, as well as from CIA, DOD, etc. The only probe currently underway proves my point. DOJ is reviewing fewer than 10 allegations of detainee abuse by low-level CIA interrogators. In other words, the scope deliberately is only on a handful of the littlest fish—just like at Abu Ghraib. Neither truth nor justice nor deterrence is served by this.
But, real investigations also have to have authority: to compel testimony using subpoena power, to negotiate with targets of the probes, to deal with classified evidence, etc. So, who?
This pretty much leaves…nobody that currently exists. That’s why liberals have been clamoring for creation of an independent commission that would do the legwork of investigating but only be able to make recommendations to DOJ on prosecutions. There are precedents for this type of thing, such as the 9/11 Commission and the Pecora Commission that probed Wall Street abuses after the 1929 crash. It’s too bad the Independent Counsel Act was abolished because it was so horribly abused in the Clinton years. Earlier Independent Prosecutors did a great job, notably the Iran-Contra independent Counsel in the late 1980s.
I don’t know enough to speculate on any further details of how such investigations should operate. If I find any new links on this subject, I’ll pass them along.