Impeachment: A Note of Caution

The impeachment of President Bush has become an important issue. For some people on the left impeachment has even become a litmus test for the “true” progressive.

For example, I recently received an e-mail from a reader apparently
with such a viewpoint. (I won’t bait the person by naming him or her,
but he or she claimed ties to the Democratic Party machine in
Minnesota.) This person responded to an article I wrote about a public
forum in Detroit at which Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) spoke about a
“people’s agenda” for the new Congress.

In my article, I reported that Rep. Conyers said, among many things,
that while his committee and the Democrats would hold numerous
hearings on Bush’s policies (from the war to corruption and attacks on
civil liberties), he regards introducing articles of impeachment as
off agenda when Congress returns in January. Conyers urged the people present to help Congress expose the truth about Bush, and said that in order for impeachment to be successful it must have broader public support and bipartisanship in Congress.

In the response, the angry reader appeared to label unabashedly Rep.
Conyers as a party “hack,” along with other Democrats for trying to
“spin and twist” the results of the election, which were based, in the
reader’s view, on a popular demand for impeachment. The reader cited
one speech by a now retired local Michigan politician (whom he mistook for a Republican loyalist) as evidence for this claim. This attack on Conyers was surprising, needless to say, given the future House Judiciary Committee Chair’s long commitment to the struggle for peace, civil and workers’ rights, and social justice – much longer than
Bush’s soon-to-end political career, and certainly longer than just
about any of Conyers’ critics.

What the reader’s abusive remarks ignored is that while polls show
that voters soundly rebuffed Bush’s war policy and Republican
corruption, and are seriously concerned about the administration’s
handling of the economy and many social issues, the movement for
impeachment has yet to be effectively built. Simple as that.

Building a credible movement for impeachment is the subject of a book
edited by Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips called “Impeach the President:
The Case against Bush and Cheney.” Its contributors move beyond
name-calling and targeting of people like Rep. Conyers out of
otherwise well-intentioned anger.

“Impeach the President” enlists the pen of the great agitator Howard
Zinn, as well as widely published journalists, academics, and
activists such as Greg Palast and Mark Crispin Miller. This book
documents a range of policy and ideological positions adopted by the
Bush administration and the Republican Party that cost lives,
destroyed countries and cities, and may have an enduring negative
impact on the globe and all human life. From Iraq to New Orleans,
ignoring global warming to protecting fossil fuels, and rejecting
international law and the U.S. Constitution, the Bush administration
and its Republican Party allies in the outgoing Congress are
responsible for some of the greatest crimes of the 21st century.

In Iraq, for example, journalist Dahr Jamal exposes a hidden story of
that war. Talking to people who witnessed the infamous battle at
Fallujah in November 2004, Jamal documents atrocities ordered on that
city by U.S. military commanders. He ties the transformation of Iraq
into a “free fire zone” to torture and brutality committed in U.S.
controlled prisons in Iraq, and to the failure of the occupation
forces to rebuild the country after Bush’s premature declaration of
victory in May 2003.

Greg Palast discusses the infamous Downing Street memo (this website was among the very first U.S.-based publications to reproduce), a secret British government document released to the British press in the spring of 2005. This memo indicates that British officials knew that the Bush administration’s reasons for pushing for war with Iraq could not be substantiated. The memo, authored in July 2002, also shows that despite the Bush administration’s public claim to desire a diplomatic resolution to the crisis it had instigated with Iraq,
British advisers had reason to believe that the administration intended to go to war regardless as early as the spring 2002. This was months before the massive public relations effort by the Bush administration that threatened the populace with Iraq’s imaginary WMD and the imminence of Iraq’s threat. Indeed, the author of the memo believed that as part of the public relations push the Bush administration had “fixed” intelligence to support their justifications for the war. Related documents extending the war plan timeline even further back to the opening months of 2002 were later leaked to the press.

Palast contrasts the swift impeachment of former President Bill Clinton over lying about his sexual activities with the former Republican-controlled Congress’s refusal to even hold a substantive hearing on the Downing Street memo and its implications.

While this book addresses a number of things that could be considered
impeachable – lying in order to start a war, ordering military personnel to break international and U.S. law by torturing people, breaking U.S. law to conduct illegal surveillance on people in the U.S. – chapters on “Ignoring Peak Oil,” “Propaganda, Lies, and Patriotic Jingoism,” and “Bush-Cheney’s War on the Enlightenment” are more about ideology and policies. This shift in focus confuses and may even undermine the immediate intention of the book.

Impeachment, of course, is a legalistic approach to addressing the
crimes of a federal official like the president or members of his administration. A movement that aims to pressure Congress to impeach Bush should focus on actual impeachable acts that would be considered “high crimes and misdemeanors.” By contrast, human rights lawyer Elizabeth De La Vega’s book “United States v. Bush et al” scrutinizes some specific legal issues more directly and lays out an actual indictment that might be presented to a constitutionally mandated entity.

But impeachment is not the real point of the Loo/Phillips book, in my
opinion. Impeachment is a limited recourse that, while it is a worthy
goal that should be pursued against Bush et al initially by truth-seeking investigations in Congress, it will, if successful, produce little more than censure for its targets. Even further, I suspect that most voters believe they held Bush and the Republicans accountable for bad policies and heinous actions by “firing” congressional Republicans last month.

The real aim of this book is to help generate a more substantial,
long-term change. And that is to build a democratic culture willing and capable of holding elected officials and government institutions accountable for their decisions and ensuring that the people have a
recourse against those who abuse their power. An effectively used
legal remedy to punish criminal acts such as impeachment would have a stronger deterrent effect on future officials from committing similar
acts. More specifically, the goal should be to examine and bring to
light the true causes, rationale, and motives for war, expansion,
military aggression, and, ultimately, empire.

The book sums up a lot of different issues that anger millions of people. But as Howard Zinn notes in his introduction to the book
Republicans and Democrats in Congress should not be expected to take the lead to impeach Bush. Indeed, such a notion undermines the basis of a democratic culture of accountability and decisively defeating and splitting the corporate, religious, and political coalition that supports Bush and the Republican Party.

To add my two cents, I believe that the explicit demand to impeach
Bush and Cheney is jumping the gun. We can already see that the
slogan’s effects are divisive and limited, sparking anger the of the
righteously committed aimed at Democratic members of Congress who feel forced to retreat on “going after Bush,” and shifting focus away from the people who committed the crimes.

The impeachment movement should really be a truth movement. It should be something akin to the “truth and reconciliation” process in
post-apartheid South Africa during which appropriate punishments were handed down to criminals exposed for heinous crimes against humanity, while preserving the unity of all the people by not allowing the process to be turned into a witch hunt.

With the slogan, “We Need to Know the Truth,” a broad people’s
movement can pressure the new Congress to put on the public record the truth about the Downing Street memo (and similar evidence of
misleading the public and Congress into war) and what the Bush people knew and when they knew it. Investigations should scrutinize the role of corporations tied to the White House in keeping the war in Iraq rolling along. Investigations should examine the issue of torture and violations of international and U.S. law, the so-called imperial
presidency and the abuse of civil liberties.

Many congressional investigations of these matters have been planned. The truth movement should be closely following these investigations, demanding more, and pushing further for full accountability. But calling allies to the truth movement like Rep. Conyers a “hack” because he won’t step out into the wilderness of Congress alone is simply little more than a divisive and empty gesture. To be sure, punishing the Bush cabal for its crimes abroad and at home will require the broadest public support, not just charged rhetoric by principled people.

The most immediate changes that need to be won for working families by the new Congress are raising the minimum wage, reforming the health care farce we call a “system,” protecting our voting rights,
guaranteeing the right of workers to join unions, taking substantive
steps to address environmental catastrophes bearing down on us, and
protecting civil rights and liberties. These changes, which will have
an immediately meaningful impact on the lives of millions of people,
should happen before Congress is ground to a halt with an impeachment struggle.

–Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

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