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We need a truth commission to uncover Bush-era wrongdoing

As Latin America's experience shows, there's great value in confronting official misdeeds.

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Does the United States need a truth commission to uncover wrongdoing committed by the Bush administration in the war on terror? Yes, says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont. Earlier this month, he proposed a process to do just that. "Many Americans feel we need to get to the bottom of what went wrong," he said. "We need to be able to read the page before we turn the page."

Many in Washington bristle at the idea. "If every administration started to reexamine what every prior administration did, there would be no end to it," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania. "This is not Latin America."

No, Senator Specter, this is not Latin America. But as someone who has spent the past quarter century researching and working on human rights issues in the Americas, I cannot help noticing instructive parallels and lessons that we might learn from the experience of our southern neighbors.

To be clear: I am not suggesting that the scale of wrongdoing by the US in the past eight years equals the atrocities of Argentina's dirty war, Augusto Pinochet's Chile, or Guatemala's long civil war. But the nature of the abuses and the official responses and justifications are, tragically, similar. How so?

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