Monday, December 4, 2006

The Moral Imperative of Impeachment

Just in case you've stumbled upon this post with no idea of what's been going on for the past six years, let me start by saying this:

Holy shit, guy! Where have you been?

But let me continue. The foundation of western government, from the moment the Magna Carta was wrung out of King John, has been the Rule of Law. That document was practically useless to the English common man, and if we fail to act more forthrightly and sternly than we seem about to, our Constitution will become equally useless to us. I'm writing this only in the hope that a few more paragraphs can help: if America can return to grace, impeachment is the only sure way.

There happens to be some fairly solid ground for seeking impeachment of both the President and the Vice President. In the course of the investigations that would be necessary to lead to their impeachment (congressional hearings complete with subpoenas, and perhaps a special prosecutor funded to the tune of Ken Starr), there are also likely to turn up grounds for indictments, not only of those two gentlemen but a substantial supporting cast of characters.

There are a lot of places we can look for malfeasance. No-bid contracts, including some to ex-Cheney roost KBR for Iraq, illegal campaign and election activity from the top of the GoP to the field, the "rendition" of "terror suspects" to countries amenable to torture (or should I say, countries more amenable to torture) than our own. Or the entire legal house of cards surrounding Guantanamo Bay. I'm not going to delve into the Valarie Plame/Wilson incident, other than by linking to it. Perhaps the handiest reference for Bush's disdain for congress (and therefore you, by the way) are his "signing statements". Charitably put, W has used the signing statement as a means of salving his conscience by warning the country that he has no intention of obeying the law he is signing. He's made over 750 of them. A sampling.

So there are a lot of rocks to sniff under (are those bodies I smell? Why, yes...). But the reality of wrongdoing has never been enough of a reason for justice. Investigations cost more than money. They take a significant amount of political will. The victory by the Democrats, although comprehensive, was still close. In perhaps the only glimmer of intelligence we've seen from him in six years, W said, "If you look at race by race, it was close. The cumulative effect, however, was not too close. It was a thumping." Well, he knows sports so let's give him that one. Each one of those reps and senators who won "close" will be seeking to consolidate their position--as will the Democrats as a whole. Their calculus is very clearly that the country is not ready for impeachment hearings. Her Nibs Pelosi is on record as saying, "impeachment is off the table."

There are a lot of reasons for this, and I don't know them all. Some of it likely has to do with the nearness of the Clinton impeachment attempt. In retrospect, that spectacle is even more tragic than it seemed at the time. To the extent that the Republican congress spent our civic energy and cash (40 million dollars) chasing the truth of a blowjob, we're now hamstrung. We have an administration that so deserves the heaviest hand a Congress can lay on it, but the will just doesn't seem to be there. America is a battered bride to her government right now and what we're told we need is reconciliation and repair.

What we really need is the bitter pill of impeachment--now more than ever in our history.

First, I want to remind you of two simple "high crimes and misdemeanors" upon which impeachment can be based. Then, and most importantly, I want to talk about why it is so important. If you know the backstory, feel free to skip to the second reel.

Allow me to lay the outlines of two basic cases: First, the waging of an illegal war and second, the pursuit of illegal spying against United States citizens. Cast your memory back to the run-up to war. Try to recall the provisions of international law that were cited to justify our invasion of Iraq. Here's a reminder:

Articles 39 and 42 of the UN Charter states that it is the role of the Security Council as a Council to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression." If any such thing exists, the Council may authorize the use of force "to maintain or restore international peace and security." Article 51 of the U.N. Charter affirms "the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence" against "an armed attack." If you doubt the power of the UN Charter over the United States, may I direct you to our Constitution, specifically Article Six, which states, "...all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land... ." In our case, "all treaties" includes the UN Charter. It's the supreme law of our land.

As of Wednesday, November 29, 2006, the estimated number of Iraqi citizen non-combatants that have been killed since our invasion of their country is at least 48,904.

Here's another Constitutional goodie:
...[The President] shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed...
That's in Article II. There's a law, called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, that covers spying on Americans. It was enacted because Nixon liked to use the FBI to spy on peace groups. He thought they were a threat to the country. Bush has been doing the same thing, except he's ignoring the law that was passed because of Nixon. I now refer you to Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's opinion in the case of ACLU et al v. NSA et al:
The wiretapping wiretapping program here in litigation has undisputedly been continued for at least five years, it has undisputedly been implemented without regard to FISA and of course the more stringent standards of Title III, and obviously in violation of the Fourth Amendment. p.31
The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these Amendments, has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment rights of these plaintiffs as well. p.33
The secret authorization orders must ... fall. They violate the Separation of Powers ordained by the very Constitution of which this President is a creature. p.37
There's more, but I think you get the point.

Certainly, George W. Bush isn't the first President to break laws. The last person to break as many (Nixon) resigned before he could be impeached. That era also encompassed the national hangover of the Vietnam War (a lesson by which we have steadfastly refused to be instructed). But all of this is simply prelude:

Republicans believe that committing adultery and then lying about it to a Grand Jury are impeachable offenses. Those offenses were exposed by a long, expensive and comprehensive investigation. If a long, expensive and comprehensive investigation of the Bush Executive reveals an illegal war begun on deliberately falsified or misrepresented 'intelligence,' surely that is impeachable as well. If a long, expensive and comprehensive investigate reveals the willful disregard of a law enacted by Congress and the concomitant violation of the First and Fourth Amendment protections of any group of American citizens, surely that is impeachable as well. If a long, expensive and comprehensive investigation reveals the willful "outing" of an undercover CIA agent for political advantage, surely that is impeachable, as well.

But why bother? Democrats have taken control of the House of Representative and worked a functional tie in the Senate. If they can push forward even a moderate slate of decent legislation (itself not certain) and continue to lead on the reformation of policy regarding the Middle East, should not they simply be content to marshall small victories in the hope of taking the Presidency and solidifying a hold on the Senate in 2008? Shouldn't they simply be satisfied that Things Are Changing and not drag the country through the morass and expense of endless hearings? "Let this sad chapter recede into the past," says Reasonable Pundit (by which I mean the lapdog press).

No. No, and a thousand times, no.

To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but and ideological choice. It serves -- unwittingly -- to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress...that is still with us.

...The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest.... And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.

...My point is not to grieve for the victims and denounce the executioners. Those tears, that anger, cast into the past, deplete our moral energy for the present.

Howard Zinn, The Twentieth Century

So long as George Bush lives, we are in the present. So long as Rumsfeld and Cheney breathe, we are in the present. So long as the Project for the New American Century has a membership, we are in the present. As long as our Soldiers' children mourn their parents, we are in the present. And until the people of Middle East have a memory of America, we are in the present.

I could spend many days cataloguing what The United States of America has lost in the years since 9/12/01. It will take decades to get it back, if we do. But the one thing we have always claimed to value is our sense of justice as expressed by our laws and embedded in our founding documents. Transparency, open government, "checks and balances." When a crime is committed, a criminal is tried. If he's guilty, we convict and punish him according to the law, not the mob. It is time for a check. It is time for a balance.

"In such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners." We cannot allow the misdeeds of the last five years to go un-examined. We can't just move on and not bother to look. Adults take responsibility--that's the only thing that separates them from kids. And if, when we look, we find a crime, then we must impeach, indict and convict. Simple. Really, it is.

But simple does not mean easy. I have argued elsewhere that the US should not leave Iraq. In answering criticsm of that diary, I said:
There have been a few comments on this thread about whether we ... bear any moral responsibility for what was pretty clearly a Bushadmin-generated war.

...My response to that is, yes. Of course we do. As long as we want to continue to consider ourselves members of this Nation, we bear joint responsibility for everything our country does. That's what makes it so painful. Not just empathy for the victims, but shame as a part of the perpetrator.

...I can't believe (or stand) what we have become. But so long as I believe this form of governance can work (and that's not an unwavering faith these days) then I have to work to see that WE do what I think is right. I try to get people to agree with me. I try to own, to the extent I can, the actions of the people that I helped elect. I never voted for W. But We did. I never invaded Iraq. But We did.

Just as every Iraqi is not Saddam, every American is not W. But because we have a representative democracy, I feel an obligation to try to correct the damage that We have caused. Because not every one of us is a perpetrator, then we can collectively take responsibility even when a crime has been committed in our name.

One of the most beautiful characteristics of the United States that I was raised to believe in is that it has a true body politic. I just saw a local artist get elected to city council. On a budget of about 2 cents and a fist full of notecards Carol Shea-Porter upset Jeb Bradley. He didn't even see it coming. When it functions correctly, we run it. A John Edwards was fond of saying, the son of a millworker really can go on to run for President. Even today. It isn't an oligarchy yet.

But even most conservatives understand that the margin is thin. In the past five years we've come as close as ever before to a nation run by and for the benefit of the very rich. From the drafting of energy policy, to the tax system, to the war, to the social security debate, to NCLB every decision has been made to consolidate power away from the artist on the corner, the history teacher, the farmer. To maintain the fiction that every big move, every sweeping gesture was required by a "Global War on Terror," laws were broken. But so was the public contract.

Government serves the people. That is its sole duty. If the last five years can be explained or ignored with the cynical resignation urging, "The government is corrupt, always has been, always will be," then we really are at the end of the Pax Americana and at the beginning of a new era. In that era, we will be small. Not in might, but in action and conviction and esteem.

It is hard to discuss our duty to our government (and its to us) without lofting phrases like an enraptured preacher. Perhaps that's why the far-right wing of Protestant Christianity has done so well by merging politics with faith. It's because the USA really is nothing more than an idea, a vision. There is nothing concrete that you can grab onto and thereby hold America. We just wrote down a bunch of really good ideas. Then we said, "There. Believe in that, defend that, and you can be a United States Citizen."

Repeatedly fail to defend and enforce those ideas within that community, and over time, without realizing it perhaps, they all begin to ring hollow. Lie to others if you must. Lie to yourself? Hand the gun to your enemy. No one official in the United States is handed a greater amount of trust than the President. Violation of that trust by the President is the greatest crime against us as a people: no one can harm us but us.

The rule of law is about to go down to political expedience. And not at the hands of the President, but at the hands of the only people in the country who have the ability to do anything about it. Unless we believe the Constitution should have no force, unless its only purpose was to gull the hoi polloi and keep us happy in our chains, then investigation, impeachment and conviction is the only moral act.

If you believe in this, if you defend this.

This file is by way of keeping the discussion on the table.

Cross-posted at Booman Tribune.

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