Many well-intentioned and patriotic Americans, including progressives and liberal Democrats, have expressed opposition to the idea of impeaching President Bush, arguing that it is a diversion from more important issues like ending the war in Iraq, or taking effective action on climate change.
Their concern is understandable, as these are indeed important issues, but they are wrong. Fortunately, House Judiciary Chair John Conyers, who knows this, is beginning the impeachment process next week by calling for a hearing to examine one of the president’s crimes: abuse of power. Fortunately too, several state legislatures in places as disparate as New Mexico, Vermont and Washington, are considering passing resolutions calling on the House to initiate impeachment hearings.
There are important reasons why this president must be impeached and they include those very urgent issues that people are afraid will be shunted aside by an impeachment battle.
The key reason this president must be impeached is that his offenses against the Constitution and the nation are so serious that the very survival of Constitutional government and the separation of powers on which it is based are at risk.
Let’s take the war in Iraq. The president clearly lied and tricked both the Congress and the American people into allowing him to invade that country. He and Vice President Dick Cheney carefully cherry-picked half-truths and known falsehoods to lay out as “evidence” that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons and that he was in league with Osama bin Laden. His White House orchestrated a campaign to damage the reputation of an honest critic, ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had discovered that a key piece of that “evidence” --some alleged documents from the country of Niger--had been forged, and even “outed” Wilson’s CIA-agent wife. These lies have led directly to the pointless deaths of nearly 3100 American men and women in uniform and to the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children. Bush also illegally pulled American troops and equipment out of Afghanistan, right at the height of a Congressionally authorized campaign to capture or kill bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization (fatally crippling that effort), and sent them to the border of Iraq in preparation for his war there.
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If this president is allowed to do such things, unchallenged and unpunished, we can expect subsequent presidents to do so in the future. Indeed, many experts and members of Congress believe that Bush is getting close to repeating this criminal behavior himself, this time with an unprovoked attack on Iran. Clearly, in order to stop such abuse of presidential authority and such a second national and international disaster, Congress will have to impeach the president.
Then there’s the so-called “signing statements.” These are the letters--not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution--which Bush and his crony attorneys in the White House and Justice Department claim allow him to invalidate all or part of any bill passed by the Congress. Bush has used signing statements to do this over 1200 time during his presidency, for everything from refusing to accept a Congressional ban on torture to giving himself the power, in clear violation of federal law, to monitor first- class mail.
Once again, if this president is not impeached for this outrage assertion of presidential absolute power, all future presidents will feel free to do the same thing, simply ignoring acts of Congress. The Constitution is crystal clear on this matter: Article I says “All legislative powers granted herein shall be vested in Congress of the United States," and Article II says the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Note that the Constitution does not say that “some” legislative powers or “most” legislative powers are vested in the Congress. It says “all.” Nor does it say that the president shall execute “some” of the laws. For Congress to let this blatant abuse of power to go unpunished would be to leave future Congresses as little more than vestigial debating societies.
As for the warrantless spying which the president has authorized the National Security Agency to engage in since the fall of 2001, in blatant violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, here is a case of the president unapologetically violating federal law and committing a felony. He is, here, simply daring the Congress to confront him. So far, they have been too cowardly to stand up to the challenge. And yet, if Bush is allowed to get away with this crime, all future presidents will argue that they too are above the law, and that they may pick and choose what laws they will honor and what laws they will break. No Constitutional system, no democratic system, can long endure under such circumstances.
The same can be said for the president’s willful violation of the Geneva Conventions barring torture. It is clear that the president both authorized torture, as defined under the Conventions, and failed to take action to prevent even the most heinous of torture acts, which reached the point of lethality, when they were brought to his attention. These, it must be pointed out, are not merely crimes which violate international law. The US is a signatory (and author) of the Geneva Conventions, and as these have been adopted by the Senate, under the Constitution they have full force of law within the U.S. Furthermore, the Republican Congress in 1996 specifically incorporated the Geneva Code into the U.S. Criminal Code, making it all the more clear that the president’s actions—and his inaction—on torture are criminal acts under U.S. law. As such they must be prosecuted, if the law is to have any meaning, and that requires, as a first step, impeachment of the president.
There are many other reasons that the president should be impeached--his criminal negligence in sending American troops into battle with inadequate armor, his criminal negligence in failing to plan for the occupation of Iraq, his extreme criminal negligence in failing to act to rescue the trapped and drowning citizens of New Orleans following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, his refusal to provide evidence requested by the 9-11 Commission (and his administration’s lies to that commission), the massive and unchecked corruption in Iraq which has so extravagantly enriched administration campaign contributors, White House corruption linked to the Abramoff and other scandals, illegal use of taxpayer funds for a program of administration propaganda using government agencies, and perhaps an orchestrated campaign of stealing elections, etc. These should all be investigated. Some are easier to document than others, but all deserve a hearing.
Meanwhile, however, it is essential that the key crimes be introduced as bills of impeachment in the House as quickly as possible, so that hearings can begin.
Critics of impeachment have argued that it is pointless to call for impeachment since removal from office would require a vote by two-thirds of the Senate, which is 49 percent Republican. That ignores the impact of truth and fact on a group of politicians who will be looking at 2008 very anxiously. When impeachment hearings began for President Richard Nixon, a scant one in four Americans thought he should be impeached. During the Clinton impeachment farce, support for the president’s removal from office never topped 36 percent. Yet a Newsweek poll taken last fall found that a remarkable 51 percent of the American public felt this president should face impeachment (including 29 percent of Republicans!), and than only 44 percent opposed impeachment.
The likelihood is that, once impeachment hearings began, they would have the same impact on Republicans this time around as they had on Republicans in Congress during the Nixon impeachment. That is, as the depth of administration perfidy and criminality was exposed on live television, through the testimony of White House staff talking under oath, honest Republicans facing re-election soon would feel compelled to cut their ties and support for Bush and his cronies. Who knows? Some might even support impeachment for reasons of principle and patriotism as the facts came out.
The real reason Bush must be impeached, though, is that if he is not impeached, this usurper will simply ignore any bills passed by Congress, will act despite any resolutions passed by Congress, and will break any law that he thinks gets in his way. Furthermore, future presidents, Democrat and Republican, will use Bush as a precedent to ignore Congress and break laws themselves.
The real question for impeachment skeptics then, is: “What are you waiting for?”
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