I recently spoke about impeachment to a major Democratic political operative.
I didn't raise the topic. He did.
The current president's war policy, I commented after a talk the operative gave, is not merely "mistaken." It's "something much worse than a strategic blunder," I said. "It is monumentally illegal and immoral. This is high-state criminality of the worst kind," I added, noting that its victims included hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, not just 3600 United States GIs (1).
The operative winced when I said "criminality." He knew I was correct in my evaluation of the White House's war on Iraq. "If we impeach Bush," he said curtly, "that's all we'll be doing in the next year." Discussion over.
The operative did not elaborate but the implications were clear: impeachment would distract attention from the Democrats' drive to take the White House back in '08.
The nation would be focused on Bush's crimes instead of opportunities for change associated with the Democratic presidential campaign. The Democratic Party would be mired in removing a bad old president instead of clearing the way for a good new one (a Democrat).
The operative was telling me to back off and "move on."
Sorry. I admit it: I can't move on and off impeachment. I think it is essential to legally remove Bush and Cheney before they finish their second terms and before they wreak yet more unimaginable imperial and plutocratic havoc.
Regarding Iraq, They:
* lied this country into an illegal, unprovoked war of aggression (the supreme crime under Nuremburg principles) with blatantly fraudulent claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
* fabricated (with no small help from dominent war and entertainment media, to be sure) in the minds of the American people a false link between Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda, Iraq and 9/11.
* falsely claimed that the U.S. was engaged in an effort to spread freedom and democracy to Iraq and the Middle East.
* fired generals who told them that their plans for Iraq were seriously inadequate.
As the popular MSNBC political talk show host Keith Olbermann (Olbermann 2007 – thank you to David Peterson for making me aware of this source) recently noted in a special commentary calling for Bush's resignation, they have:
* "caus[ed] in Iraq the needless deaths of 3,586 of our brothers and sons, and sisters and daughters, and friends and neighbors" (too bad doctrinal requirements compel Olbermann to delete the vastly larger number of Iraqi victims).
* "subvert[ed] the Constitution, not in some misguided but sincerely-motivated struggle to combat terrorists, but to stifle dissent."
* "foment[ed] fear among [their] own people,…creating the very terror [they] claim to have fought."
* "exploit[ed] that unreasoning fear, the natural fear of [their] own people who just want to live their lives in peace, as a political tool to slander [their] critics and libel [their] opponents" (Olbermann 2007).
Now Bush stands justly accused of "giving, through [Cheney], carte blanche to Mr. [I. Lewis] Libby, to help defame Ambassador Joseph Wilson by any means necessary, to lie to Grand Juries and Special Counsel and before a court, in order to protect the mechanisms and particulars of that defamation, with [the] guarantee that Libby would never see prison, and, in so doing, as Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson himself phrased it here last night, of becoming an accessory to the obstruction of justice" (Olbermann 2007).
FALL GUY: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE I. LEWIS (SCOOTER) LIBBY CASE
The Libby case should remind us of our duty to impeach. Does anyone doubt that Bush decided to commute Libby's 30-month sentence in return for his silence? The Cheney- Bush administration decided at the highest levels to illegally punish former Ambassador Joseph Wilson for daring to tell the truth about "one aspect of the [administration's] fictional justifications for the war" (Toobin 2007). As legal scholar Jeffrey Toobin noted in The New Yorker after a federal jury found Libby guilty of perjury and obstructing justice last March, "it was clear that the business of discrediting the Wilsons was a group undertaking, and it's therefore easy to see why the jury struggled with laying blame for the whole operation on Libby." One of the jurors noted after the trial that the defense had rightly portrayed Libby as a "fall guy" for Cheney and others (Toobin 2007).
The Libby case merits brief review. In 2002 the CIA sent Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. Ambassador to Gabon, to Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein had attempted to buy uranium yellowcake, a critical ingredient in the making of nuclear weapons, in that nation. Wilson found no such attempted purchase. He returned to the U.S. and said nothing about his Niger (non-)findings in the public sphere.
After George W. Bush cited the nonexistent African yellowcake connection in his 2003 State of the Union Address, however, Wilson began to publicly contradict the president's false "intelligence" claim. Wilson's efforts included a July 6, 2003 New York Times Op-Ed that enraged Cheney and other war-mad administration officials. Part of the administration's vengeful response to Wilson's "treason" included telling reporters that Wilson's Niger trip had been dreamed up as a silly junket by his wife – the highly placed CIA agent Valerie Wilson. This false story line involved illegally revealing Valerie Wilson's CIA identity. Valerie Wilson's CIA cover was formally "blown" in a July 14th 2003 editorial by the vicious right-wing columnist Robert Novak. The administration officials who disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA identity included top White House political aide Karl Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage but the leak likely occurred with the advance knowledge of Cheney and other administration officials, possibly including Bush.
Under pressure from congressional Democrats, federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate the leak. His prosecution ended up focusing solely on the hawkish neoconservative Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, who lied to protect other White House officials. Libby was certainly promised that his sentence would be commuted and his fines paid (by rich Republicans) in return for deceiving and otherwise hindering federal investigators. He may also have been promised a full presidential pardon.
Early last March, Libby was convicted (after ten full days of jury deliberation) of lying to federal investigators and a grand jury and of obstructing the government's probe into the exposure of Valerie Wilson's CIA identity. On July 2, 2007, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that Libby must be incarcerated while appealing his conviction. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton had earlier refused to grant Libby freedom during appeal since the evidence of Libby's guilt was "overwhelming." Libby was looking at 30 months in low-security prison and a $250,000 fine.
The sentence and imprisonment order came down after a large number of neoconservative politicos and "intellectuals" (joined by a few liberal and Democratic Washington insiders) launched a major campaign advocating leniency for the "fallen hero" Libby.
Literally within hours of the July 2nd decision, George "The Decider" Bush commuted Libby's sentence. He "did so," MSNBC's Keith Olbermann noted, "even before the appeals process was complete; did so without as much as a courtesy consultation with the Department of Justice; did so despite what James Madison — at the Constitutional Convention — said about impeaching any president who pardoned or sheltered those who had committed crimes 'advised by' that president; did so without the slightest concern that even the most detached of citizens must look at the chain of events and wonder: To what degree was Mr. Libby told: break the law however you wish—the President will keep you out of prison?" (Olbermann 2007)
Bush commuted Libby in defiance of "the white-collar sentencing guidelines set by his own administration" (Rich 2007). As the New York Times reported last Sunday, he also flouted the "consistent and narrow standard" he used when issuing pardons and commutations as the Governor of Texas during the 1990s. Bush's gubernatorial standard was that pardons and commutations were to be limited to cases of clearly demonstrable innocence (Liptak 2007). In "Scooter's" case, however, Bush did not question the guilty verdict, only the extremity of the sentence.
As liberal Times columnist Frank Rich notes, Bush's decision to commute Libby's sentence without a pardon is all about covering his and Cheney's richly impeachment-worthy asses: "…Mr. Bush's highest priority is always to protect himself. Had the president wanted [simply] to placate the [neoconservative] Weekly Standard crowd, he would have given Libby a full pardon. That he served up a commutation instead is revealing of just how worried the president is about the beans Mr. Libby could spill about his an Dick Cheney's use of prewar intelligence." "Valerie Wilson still has a civil suit pending. The Democratic inquisitor in the House, Henry Waxman, still has the uranium hoax underlying this case at the top of his agenda as an active investigation. A commutation puts up roadblocks by keeping Mr. Libby's appeal conviction alive and his Fifth Amendment rights intact. He can't testify without risking self-incrimination" (Rich 2007)
"STRATEGIZING IN THE FACE OF AN ONGOING CRIME"
The aforementioned political operative is a very smart and progressive fellow, with a strong labor background. I know where he's coming from. I certainly would not expect him to jump on board the impeachment (or better, the war-crime-trial) bandwagon. It wouldn't make any sense for him.
Still, I was unfortunately reminded by his comment of former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega's cogent argument against congressional, Democratic and legal inaction in (non-) response to Bush-Cheney's hyper-criminality in her 2006 book United States v. George W. Bush (written before the Democrats rode popular antiwar sentiment to a majority in Congress in the 2006 mid-terms): "For over a year now, polls have shown that the majority of Americans believe President Bush deliberately misrepresented prewar intelligence. Executive branch officials who deliberately mislead Congress and the public intending to influence congressional action have committed a federal crime. This means that roughly 100 million Americans believe Bush committed a crime, yet most, like Kitty Genovese's neighborhoods (2), are just passive bystanders – although not…due to indifference."
"Many of us are just watching it happen because we feel powerless to stop it. Hundreds of thousands of people have in effect called 911, but not even Democrats in Congress have been willing to answer the phone. It is not that they don't have enough information; it is, our Democratic representatives say, because it is not good political strategy."
"The proposition that it is not good political strategy to insist that government official obey the law is highly debatable. More important, strategizing in the face of an ongoing crime is wrong" (de la Vega 2006, p. 19).
Bush and Cheney have raised for us the question that Archibald Cox posed to us in October of 1973 after Richard Nixon fired Cox for his role in investigating the Watergate break-in: shall we live under a government of laws or a government of men? As Glen Ford recently observed in Black Agenda Report, the claim of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her cowed congressional supporters (including all but four black congresspersons) that there's "not enough time left in Bush's and Cheney's terms to bother with impeaching them" is a "lie that flies in the face of history. Richard Nixon's impeachment proceedings," Ford notes, "took only three months, after which he resigned in disgrace. It took only four months for Bill Clinton to go through the entire process, and be acquitted" (Ford 2007). The Congress did not function any worse than normal on other policy matters during previous impeachment dramas.
"CONGRESS MAY AS WELL GO HOME"
We should also factor in the question of what we are saying to future imperial presidencies by not exercising our basic constitutional duty to purge Cheney and Bush. "Impeachment, like all criminal processes," Ford adds, "is designed not just to punish current lawbreakers, but to prevent future criminality. George Bush and his gang have been running a massive criminal enterprise for more than six years, effectively nullifying the Constitution. The Constitution does not automatically come back to life after the two top criminals leave. It must be enforced, or it is just an old, moldy piece of paper. The question is not whether there is time to impeach Bush and Cheney, but whether there is time to rescue the rule of law" (Ford 2007).
Bill Clinton's Secretary of State Madeline Albright once candidly and criminally commented that the United States had no business accumulating its unmatched stash of military hardware if it didn't intend to use it. A similar if non-murderous point could be made about Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. Impeachment is on the books because the nations' founders had good reasons to fear the remarkable potential for disastrous abuses of power that the Constitution created for Presidents who can be removed through "popular" selection on one day four years after inauguration.
Bush and Cheney have justified that fear like few previous White House occupants. As David Swanson of "After Downing Street" recently noted, Bush has by now committed a vast array of technically impeachable offenses in 12 criminal categories – "not 12 crimes," Ford adds, "but 12 whole categories of crimes, each containing many separate instances and counts of crimes, any one of which is enough to send Bush and Cheney back where they came from before January, 2009." "If Cheney-Bush can't be impeached," Ford reminds us, "nobody can… If laws can be broken at will, there is no law. Congress may as well stop enacting them, and go home, themselves."
* This is a slightly corrected and retitled version of an essay that appeared on the ZNet top page yesterday.
1. Like "mainstream" (dominant corporate) media, most of the leading Democratic candidates seem doctrinally unwilling to join the officially marginalized Dennis Kucinich in acknowledging the remarkable extent to which Iraqis have suffered under criminal U.S. assault during (and before) the launching of "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Recently, however, Chris Dodd went up to a supporter holding a sign decrying the war's killing of 3500 U.S. GIs and reminded them that the invasion had also killed "70,000" Iraqis – a vast understatement but a shocking departure from standard doctrine nonetheless.
2. "Kitty Genovese was viciously assaulted, stabbed three times, and finally killed, on the way to her Queens, New York, home one night in 1964. Thirty-eight neighbors heard or watched her ordeal, but no one called the police until the attack was essentially over. The murder was universally seen as a horrifying example of modern-day indifferences to the plight of others" (de la Vega 2006, p.18).
Elizabeth de la Vega 2006. United States v. George W. Bush (New York: Seven Stories, 2006).
Glen Ford 2007. "If Cheney-Bush Can't Be Impeached, Nobody Can," Black Agenda Report (June 20 2007), available online at http://www.blackagendareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=258&Itemid=44 .
Adam Liptak 2007. "For Libby, Bush Seemed to Alter His Texas Policy." New York Times, 8 July 2007, sec. 1, p.4.
Keith Olbermann 2007. "Special Comment: Bush, Cheney Should Resign," Countdown with Keith Olbermann, MSNBC (July 3 2007), available online at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19588942/
Frank Rich 2007. "A Profile in Cowardice." New York Times, 8 July 2007, sec. 4. p.12.
Jeffrey Toobin 2007. "Verdicts." The New Yorker (March 19 2007), pp. 59-60.