December 07, 2007

Impeach ‘em Both!

It does no good to impeach Bush; that just leaves us with Dick Cheney as President (scary thought!). And it does no good to impeach Cheney; that still leaves Bush. Our only hope is to impeach them both together.

I recently participated in a Port Townsend TV show about impeachment. If you’re on cable in Port Townsend look for it on Channel 97. The show is called Future Tense, hosted by Pat Perreault. The beginning of this article is what I said on the show.

According to the Constitution Congress can impeach the “President, Vice President and other Civil officers” (including judges) for “Treason, Bribery and High Crimes and Misdemeanors”.

It is designed to be a mechanism for Congress to restrain the power of the President and remove them from office if they abuse that power. They wanted to distinguish our President from a king, who was not restrained by anything.

Impeachment is the equivalent of an indictment and requires a majority vote in the House of Representatives. Then the Senate holds a trial with conviction requiring a 2/3 majority.

Andrew Johnson was the first President to be impeached, in 1868. At that point he had less than a year left in his term. When Congress passed a law restraining his power, he defied it, and within 8 days was impeached by the House of Representatives. 2 ½ months later the trial was over, with the Senate 1 vote short of the 2/3 needed for conviction.

The only other President to actually be impeached was Bill Clinton, for the Monica Lewinski affair. He was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. Although he was impeached in the House, there were not nearly enough votes in the Senate to convict him. However the impeachment did weaken his presidency.

President Nixon wasn’t actually impeached because he resigned after the House Judiciary Committee sent Articles of Impeachment to the House floor. However his case is closest to the situation we have today.
He was charged with Obstruction of Justice, Abuse of Power and Contempt of Congress. Sound familiar?

When I first started carrying an impeachment petition on my college campus, nobody thought that there was a chance that Nixon would be impeached, let alone convicted. But the further the process went, the more information came out about what he had done, and the more he resisted Congress, the more public opinion, and more importantly, Congressional opinion turned against him. He finally resigned after Senate Republicans told him that he was sure to be impeached and convicted.

The charges against Nixon included making false statements to investigators, withholding evidence, abuse of power, using federal agencies, to harass and spy on anti-war activists and others on his “enemies list”. (This surveillance led to the passage of the FISA law that Bush violated with his warrantless wiretapping program.)

Nixon was charged with Contempt of Congress for refusing to provide information requested during the impeachment hearings and refusing to comply with Congressional subpoenas.

He also corrupted the political process with a forerunner of Karl Rove’s tactics in what came to be known as “dirty tricks”. Among other things, he instituted a smear campaign against Edmund Muskie, who he thought would be the strongest Democratic Candidate for President in 1972, and ended up knocking him out of the race.

Additional charges related to the “secret war” in Cambodia were discussed in the Judiciary Committee but did not end up being included in the Articles of Impeachment.

And that brings us to George W Bush and Dick Cheney.

The Kucinich impeachment resolution in the House Judiciary Committee only applies to Cheney. As I explained above, that just won’t work. Cheney doesn’t really have power based on being Vice President. The duties of the VP are almost non-existent…breaking the occasional tie vote in the Senate and waiting for the President to die, or get impeached, in which case he becomes President. No, his crimes are in devising policies that break the law and violate the Constitution. He could go right on doing that from behind the scenes even if he did get impeached. Nothing would change.

However, there is nothing to stop the Judiciary Committee from adding Bush to the Impeachment Articles once their hearings show how both of them worked together. They head up the conspiracy that has been systematically shredding the Constitution. Bush has the power of the Presidency and Cheney has been the leader in defining their policies from the war in Iraq to secret surveillance to torturing prisoners to torturing the language to avoid calling it torture. They are an effective team, I’ll give you that.

The Kucinich resolution accuses them of lying about the reasons to go to war in Iraq and the reasons they want to go to war in Iran but that only scratches the surface. Both Nixon and Clinton were accused of lying to cover up their misdeeds in their Articles of Impeachment. Bush and Cheney’s lies, on the other hand, are responsible for a war that has killed and injured thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. They have also endangered our own security and done serious damage to the US military. Of course, Congress went along, when they should have known better, but that does not lessen the guilt of the President and VP.

The war itself is a violation on international laws against wars of aggression, targeting of civilians, torture and the mistreatment of prisoners.

They also violated specific US laws against domestic surveillance and against torture. As I mentioned above, the FISA law was passed to prevent exactly the kind of warrantless wiretapping that Bush ordered. He violated that law and used secrecy as a cover to prevent Congress and the American people from finding out about it. US law also prohibits torture. Bush and Cheney ordered prisoners to be tortured and then denied that that’s what they were doing. As if saying that it wasn’t torture made it any less tortuous.

They violated the Constitution in more ways than I can count. By calling prisoners “enemy combatants” and hiding them in secret prisons on US military bases outside of the US and in third countries, they pretend that they are not regular prisoners and not prisoners of war. They seek to dehumanize them and deny them any rights at all. The Constitution does not make these distinctions. It does not guarantee rights contingent on the whim of the President. It does guarantee Due Process of Law, Habeas Corpus and prohibits Cruel and Unusual Punishment, Period.

They assert powers for the President that don’t exist in the Constitution, or are granted to other branches of government. Signing statements openly declare that portions of laws will not be obeyed. Remember, that is what got Andrew Johnson impeached. Nixon was accused of Contempt of Congress. Bush and Cheney are certainly guilty of that. You would think that Congress would be upset about this, and about their refusal to provide information to Congress. Harriet Miers and other in the administration ignored Congressional subpoenas regarding the US Attorney firings. The Justice Department then declared that they would not enforce Contempt of Congress actions.

Of course, there is the corruption involved in giving huge no bid contracts to their cronies at Halliburton, Bechtel, oil companies and other close associates of the President and Vice President. Worse, there has been little oversight of these contracts. Billions of dollars have been misspent or have simply disappeared. Billions more went missing when they shipped planeloads of cash to Iraq and handed out bundles without any apparent accounting of where it went. How much of that went to buy weapons to use against American troops? Of course the weapons they are buying with that money could be those American weapons given to the Iraqi government that have also disappeared.

Failure to impeach can have serious consequences. Bush and Cheney are establishing all sorts of precedents for giving the President expanded power. If this power grab is left unchallenged, then future Presidents, Democratic and Republican, will be all too happy to hold on to that power. If Congress won’t challenge it now, there is no chance that they ever will.

This is how we lose our freedom, not with a bang but a whimper.

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