Spencer Ackerman was right on the money yesterday, calling for a revival of the 9/11 Commission to document the hunt for bin Laden. Marcy Wheeler agrees. So does Andrew Sullivan. And Adam Serwer. Each of them adds interesting recommendations about the scope of what the commission should look at.

My contribution is to remind everyone what nonpartisan, specially appointed commissions are good for. Two things: they’re good at giving cover to something that politicians want to do (or not do) but don’t want the credit or blame for; and, they can be good at fact-finding.

So don’t expect much in the way of policy breakthroughs, unfortunately. Right now, I’m not aware of any policy that everyone (meaning, basically, majorities large enough to pass something and sign in into law) wants to enact but is scared of doing. That may have been the case during the 111th Congress, but as of now I highly doubt that 60 Senators and 218 Members of the House would vote for sensible detention and counterterrorism measures even if they had full political cover to do so.

No, right now what’s needed is establishing the truth. The target audience? Washingtonians, including many in the working press and some key players in both parties, who like to think of themselves as tough-minded and sophisticated, and are tempted to believe that the anti-torture crowd is simply naive about the Way the World Works. That, in my opinion at least, isn’t a terrible instinct — but I’m fairly confident that it just leads in the wrong direction with regard to torture, the capacity of the regular courts, and several other Cheneyite activities.

Or maybe not. We need to know that, too.

One thing, though. Ackerman’s suggestion to get the facts on the table is spreading rapidly among those who believe that torture was unlikely to have been helpful in the hunt for bin Laden. Anyone from the pro-torture side looking to document the truth?

I didn’t think so.

For my earlier thoughts on this, see here and here.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.