WASHINGTON – One day after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (search) called the war in Iraq a "grotesque mistake," the House minority leader is spearheading an effort to convene an outside commission to investigate allegations of abuse of terrorism detainees.
House Democrats seem convinced that evidence of abuse at Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba, and in Iraq and Afghanistan is being concealed and that the only way to expose it is with a commission liked the one convened to investigate intelligence failures that allowed the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"We in Congress have a responsibility to make this issue once again too hot for the Republicans to handle," she said. "The treatment of detainees is a taint on our country's reputation."
But rather than accuse any soldiers of abuse, which is politically dangerous, Pelosi alluded to unproven abuses with a certainty that blame lies in the hands of the majority party.
"What is it that the Republicans are trying to hide? How far up the chain of command does this go? Why is it that the secretary of defense is not taking responsibility for this? It happened on his watch," she said.
Others were a little uneasy about accusing U.S. soldiers of committing abuses but had less reluctance in blaming higher-ups.
"We have a lot of outstanding folks at Guantanamo. If we have problems, I'm sure they're a rare thing. But we need to find them out. We need to find [out] about the chain of command, who's responsible," said Rep. Ike Skelton (search), D-Mo., the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
These members dismissed previous and ongoing investigations by the Pentagon and no one mentioned a handful of federal court cases weighing the legal rights of detainees, which have halted any trials from going forward. The Senate also had its own hearings.
The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee noted her committee is already conducting a "serious and bipartisan" investigation, but argued it wasn't enough.
"This investigation is largely classified. We also need a public unclassified investigation," Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the Republican head of that committee, said those insisting on an independent investigation apparently don't know what Congress is already doing.
"These are serious issues, the information that the folks may have in Gitmo may save American lives. It will make our War on Terror more effective. Should these allegations be investigated? Absolutely. Are they being investigated? Absolutely," Hoekstra, R-Mich., said.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., added in a written statement: "The creation of this committee is yet another example of Democrat leaders trusting the words of terrorists over the proven action of U.S. troops.
"The American taxpayer is already footing a million dollar bill to provide for detainees, who are currently more comfortable than most of our men and women in uniform. When will Democrats start focusing their efforts on strongly supporting our troops rather than justifying the claims of terrorists?"
Those who pushed for a commission say it is necessary to protect the reputation of American forces. But Hoekstra suggested he wasn't buying it. Though he didn't mention Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., by name, who apologized Tuesday for comparing allegations of detainee abuse at Gitmo to the great tragedies of the 20th century, he took on critics who have been "bashing our troops."
"When senior members of Congress, including a member of the minority leadership in the Senate exaggerate and distort these issues, including by comparing American soldiers to Nazis, those comments do nothing but reinforce false prejudices abroad that have led us to war," he said.
More than 170 of his colleagues have signed onto the bill.
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