South Africa used one to try to get past apartheid after the end of white-minority rule.
Now, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont is proposing one to sift through all the wreckage of the Bush administration.
Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a speech today at Georgetown University that a "truth and reconciliation commission" could investigate abuses of detainees, politically inspired moves at the Justice Department, intelligence before the Iraq war, and other matters, according to the Associated Press.
Leahy said the primary goal of the commission would be to learn the truth rather than prosecute former officials. "I'm doing this not to humiliate people or punish people but to get the truth out," he said.
Human Rights First, which has been calling for an investigation of US detention of terror suspects, applauded Leahy.
“If adopted, Senator Leahy’s proposal would help to ensure that the United States learns the right lessons from past mistakes,” Elisa Massimino, executive director of Human Rights First, said in a statement. “A comprehensive and independent inquiry is essential to determining how the U.S. government came to adopt policies of official cruelty and arbitrary detention, the strategic costs of such policies to our national security, and how we can best guard against such abuses in the future.”
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, also praised Leahy's move.
"Chairman Leahy today summed up a belief shared by millions of Americans: that we need to ‘get the truth out’ about the damage done to this country under the Bush Administration, and what we now must do to repair it," Whitehouse said in a statement released by his office.
"He understands that the trust we hold for future generations can be safeguarded only when honesty, freedom, justice and compassion guide our institutions of government; that where that trust has been violated, the cost is incalculable; and that the path to recovery leads through disclosure," continued Whitehouse, who has said Congress should discharge its "independent responsibility" to investigate.
“The ‘truth and reconciliation’ commission Chairman Leahy proposed today is one way to help us better understand the work ahead of us as we look forward to a brighter future. I support him and will do whatever I can to ensure the American people learn the truth about what has happened in our country.”
Some groups on the left, however, want actual prosecutions, even of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.