Impeachment Now Or Apocalypse Later?
By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
April 22, 2008
The political noose seems to be tightening on the key members of the
remaining miscreants down in the White House bunker -- mainly Bush,
Cheney, Rice, Addington and Mukasey. (Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Gonzales,
Powell and Tenet were pushed out the door earlier.) But will the
Democrats, having been provided with smoking gun-type evidence of these
officials' high crimes and misdemeanors, take the next logical step to
end this continuing nightmare of law-breaking at the highest levels?
TORTURE AUTHORIZED FROM ON HIGH
After eight years, the multiple examples of ethical and felonious crimes
of the Bush Administration are now abundantly clear and beyond rational
dispute. Most compelling among them is the crime of authorizing torture
as state policy.
In recent days, we've learned that
George W. Bush signed orders authorizing torture, and admitted that
he approved of the deliberations by his National Security Council's
Principals Committee on the torture regime being set up for a few
high-value prisoners. (Which, of course, filtered down to how thousands
of suspected terrorists were maltreated.)
Bush has conceded that his Principals (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Ashcroft,
Powell, Tenet) kept him apprised of their deliberations on which
suspected terrorists would undergo which forms of torture, according to
ABC News' recent blockbuster story.
The meetings of the Principals, according to ABC, took place in early
2002 at least four months before the Administration's famous Bybee/Yoo
memos were issued that retroactively sought to provide legal
justification for the torture. (Short version of those memoranda: The
President is above all U.S. laws and international treaties.)
During those Principals' meetings,
Dick Cheney was a driving
force behind the use of "harsh interrogations" of the prisoners in U.S.
care. Other members were more worried about what they were doing. In the
ABC story, according to a top official, John Ashcroft asked aloud
after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House?
History will not judge this kindly."
Condoleezza Rice, then National Security Advisor, aggressively
chaired the Principals' torture meetings. Despite some occasional
misgivings voiced by Ashcroft and Colin Powell about the
"enhanced interrogation" techniques being employed, Rice told the CIA:
"This is your baby.
Go do it."
TRYING TO MAKE TORTURE "LEGAL"
Torture, as commonly understood and defined, is illegal under both U.S.
law and international treaties that American governments have ratified
over the decades. Bush&Co. had to come up with a way to torture suspects
but not to appear to be doing so. Here's how it worked: Officials felt
they could honestly assert that the Administration didn't approve of or
authorize torture because under the new definition supplied in the Bybee/Yoo
memos, it was torture only if the prisoners were near-death or their
internal organs were about to fail as a result of their treatment. In
other words, the Administration simply made everything else legal:
beatings, near-drownings, electroshocks to the genitals, stress
positions, sexual abuse, etc. Only if the interrogators killed the
prisoners or were thisclose to doing so would they
have crossed over the line. See my
the Dictionary, Control the World."
It turns out that David Addington, Cheney's then-Legal Counsel
who has since replaced Scooter Libby as Cheney's chief of staff, was at
the locus of the cockamamie reasoning behind both the Bybee/Yoo torture
memos and the "unitary executive" theory of governance. The latter
asserts that the President is in charge of basically everything
governmental and can't be touched; further, the Bybee/Yoo memos assert,
the President cannot be second-guessed when he claims to be acting as
"commander in chief" during "wartime."
Of course, there has been no Congressional Declaration of War, as the
Constitution requires; the "war" -- at an estimated cost of several
trillions(!) of dollars -- is the "War on Terror," which, since it's
being waged against a tactic, can never be completely won and thus is
never-ending. In short, the President, under this asserted legal cover,
can act more or less as a dictator forever, including declaring martial
law whenever he deems an "emergency" situation prevails. (Suppose, for
example, the ballot-counting books are cooked in November and the
Democratic candidate once again has a victory stolen away. There could
be mass protests, perhaps even riots, in the streets. A potential "civic
emergency" right there.)
MUKASEY'S FALSE TESTIMONY
Michael Mukasey, who promised he would be an independent Attorney
General, has turned out to be just as much of a lackey for the
Administration as his predecessor Alberto Gonzales. Mukasey seems to
feel, as Gonzales did, that he doesn't work for the public but is there
to ensure that his bosses stay out of jail. (Interesting side-note:
Barack Obama says that, if elected, he would ask his attorney general to
investigate whether Bush and Cheney might have committed
crimes while in office.)
But what really got Mukasey into hot water in recent days was his
assertion that the U.S. knew that a terrorist in Afghanistan was calling
someone inside the U.S. prior to the 9/11 attack but the supposedly
"outdated" FISA laws wouldn't permit the Administration to tap that
phone call and thus prevent the 9/11 events from happening. Mukasey was
using that fallacious argument in 2008 as a scare reason for why the
Bush Administration needed Congressional re-authorization immediately of
the NSA's domestic-spying program, complete with built-in amnesty for
the big telecom companies working in cahoots with the Administration.
But Mukasey's explanation is total B.S.
Glenn Greenwald and others have made clear, under then-existing FISA
law the Bush Administration could have eavesdropped on the pre-9/11 call
and didn't really need any more draconian spying programs. (Mukasey has
since tried to tapdance away from having misled Congress.)
The whole object of the Bush Administration, in this and every other
matter, has been to amass total control of information and intelligence
in the White House, cutting out the courts (in this case, specifically
the FISA Court) and Congress. They want full freedom to operate outside
the law, with nobody -- no judges, no legislators, no media reporters --
looking over their shoulders at what they might be up to, and telling
them what they can or cannot do. It's possible that at least one aim of
the domestic-spying programs is to learn from secret phone-taps and
emails what their political enemies are thinking.
THINGS ON AND OFF THE TABLE
OK, so Cheney, Bush, Rice, Mukasey, Addington (and no doubt others not
quite as prominent) are dirty, involved in activities beyond and outside
the law. In other words, they have engaged, and are still engaged, in
high crimes and misdemeanors.
What's to be
There's more than enough documented evidence to justify, at the very
least, an impeachment hearing in the House. Potentially, if the
committee voted to go forward, there could well be enough support to
convict in the Senate from both Democrats and Republicans worried about
their electoral chances in 2008.
But nothing can happen unless or until the majority Democratic leaders
in both the House and Senate make the collective decision to begin the
impeachment process with hearings in the House Judiciary Committee.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers are sticking to their guns that
impeachment is "off the table."
THEIR REASONS FOR AVOIDING ACTION
Let's examine the main reasons why the Congressional Democratic leaders
refuse to budge from this policy, and how they might be made to change
their minds. Their arguments appear to rest on four basic premises:
1. Breaking the impeachment cycle. The Democrats moved to impeach
Republican President Richard Nixon (who resigned before the Senate could
try him), then the Republicans impeached Democratic President Bill
Clinton and tried him in the Senate (not for treason or malfeasance in
office but for lying about a sexual dalliance. He was acquitted).
Putting Cheney and Bush on trial in the Senate, according to this
reasoning, might be seen as tit-for-tat partisan vengeance.
In this argument, the impeachment option is being over-used for
political reasons and risks becoming cyclical each time one party
controls Congress and the other controls the White House.
A Democrat may win the Presidency in 2008. Unless the impeachment cycle
is broken now, this reasoning goes, a future Democratic President might
become the object of a vendetta by forces of the Republican rightwing,
anxious for some payback.
2. Impeachment would hamper getting essential Congressional business
done. The Democratic leadership says that preparing and conducting
impeachment hearings would use up all the political oxygen and energy in
Congress, making it virtually impossible to deal legislatively with
The question is whether the Democrats are having any success right now
dealing with these important legislative matters. Looking at the
situation realistically, it's obvious that not much essential business
is being conducted, let alone completed.
The Republicans filibuster, or threaten to, at which point the Dems back
off their legislation; if a bill by the Democratic majority does manage
to sneak through, Bush either vetoes it or issues a "signing statement"
saying he won't obey the new law. Virtually all matters of import are
being postponed until after the new President is installed next January.
3. Why rock the boat? Why risk the opprobrium of Independent and
moderate-Republican voters in November, who might think the Democrats
are "piling on" for partisan, electoral reasons, and thus decide to vote
for the Republican nominee?
The Democratic leadership's argument goes: "Look, the Republicans are on
the ropes as a result of this incompetent, corrupt, greedy,
war-mongering Administration. As a result, we're well positioned to
enlarge our electoral gains in the House and the Senate, maybe to the
point of being able to prevent obstructionist Republicans from
filibustering needed legislation. And we may well take back the White
House. So why rock the boat?
"Let's just last out CheneyBush's final months in office [the Dem
argument continues]. Since we know that this unpopular pair will
continue to earn the disdain and anger of the American public by
continuing their extremist ways until Inauguration Day in January, it's
better they remain in office rather than risk firing-up GOP-base
passions during the election campaign by putting Bush and Cheney in the
impeachment dock. Besides, if we impeached them, the public's focus
would fasten on Bush and Cheney rather than on the Republican nominee
and the dangers of a possible McCain presidency."
In short, the American people, this reasoning goes, want to quickly move
away from thinking about the godawful CheneyBush Administration of the
past eight years and head to a more optimistic, hopeful future.
4. The fear of being slimed. The Democrats don't want to be
accused of being "unpatriotic" by putting a "wartime" President into the
impeachment dock. Even though Bush is the most unpopular president in
history, and though more than three-quarters of American citizens think
under his leadership the country is "on the wrong track," the Democrats,
anxious for a re-election sweep in the House and Senate, remain
terrified of Rovian-type Swiftboating smears that could possibly cost
them some votes in November and in the 2010 midterm election.
Realizing that the Bushistas still control the mainstream,
corporate-owned media, and thus have all sorts of TV/radio/newspaper
organizations that could dump on them big time, the Democrats continue
to roll over and make nice to the shrinking but noisy Republican base
and their TV/radio pundits. In other words, the Dems are perennial wimps
and haven't yet figured out how best to confront the smash-mouth,
take-no-prisoners politics of Rove & Co.
I strongly disagree with these four rationales for inaction, but at
least I can understand where they're coming from. But the Democrats,
especially their leaders, are simply ignoring some essential arguments.
REBUTTAL: WHY NOT IMPEACHMENT?
1. Nine months is a longnnnnnnnnnnnnng time. Between now and
January 2009, a full nine months from now, CheneyBush are capable of
doing a hell of a lot of further damage to the body politic, to the
economy, to the Constitution, to the reputation of the U.S. abroad, to
the armed forces, to the "enemy" countries in their crosshairs. The
propaganda campaign being catapulted against Iran, for example, is
nearly a carbon copy of what took place before the U.S. bombed, invaded
and occupied Iraq. The neo-cons in the Administration, especially Cheney
and Bush, are salivating at the prospect of an enormous air assault on
Iran's military establishment and laboratories, have positioned attack
forces near and around Iran, and are ready to rumble. All they need is
an acceptable causus belli.
A cornered CheneyBush&Co. down in the bunker may decide, what the hell,
to unleash the dogs of war again, even though their two previous
unleashings have been disasters. Iraq is a catastrophic quagmire of epic
proportions, and a somewhat ignored Afghanistan is heating up again with
the Taliban re-asserting control of larger and larger portions of the
In addition, John McCain is making it clear that he will be continuing
the Administration's foreign and domestic policies if he were to win in
November. He's said it would be fine for America to stay in Iraq for a
hundred years or more, he's indicated that he's quite amenable (maybe
even eager) to "bomb, bomb, bomb" Iran, he won't do much to help deal
with the consequences of global warming, he has little to offer in the
way of solutions for the financial mess the country is in -- we're
talking a possible foreign policy/economic/environmental apocalypse
2. The danger of a green light. Impeachment is an important and
necessary step Americans can take to rein in an out-of-control
administration that is endangering the country's national security with
its reckless, extreme misadventures.
Taking the possibility of impeachment "off the table" is to fight the
CheneyBush Administration with one hand tied behind the back. Bush&Co.
have demonstrated over the past eight years that they understand, and
respond to, only one thing: countervailing power that refuses to give
in. The ultimate effective weapon in the Legislative Branch's arsenal is
the fear of impeachment and conviction and removal from power, to be
followed either by "war crimes" charges internationally and felony and
civil-suit prosecutions inside the U.S.
Absent the possibility of impeachment, Cheney and Bush feel they have a
green light to do whatever they wish in the time remaining of their
tenure. Waxman and Leahy can try to humiliate and embarrass them in
their Congressional one-day hearings, but they will face no real
accountability or punishment for their actions. So why not continue the
corruption, attack Iran, appoint more ideologues to the courts and into
high administrative positions, postpone any global-warming solutions,
3. The precedent of respecting the law. Whenever leaders are not
punished for their unethical policies or criminal misdeeds, the rule of
law suffers. Impeachment is mentioned numerous times in the Constitution
as the legal and required remedy for extreme misrule. It's the last
option for citizens, through their legislators, to discipline errant
If the Congress does not impeach this president and vice president, who
have nearly taken the country down as a result of their reckless,
dangerous, incompetent, authoritarian behavior, then the rule of law
stands for nothing. And future elected leaders can legitimately believe
that they more or less can also get away with anything they wish to do.
Putting Cheney and Bush into the impeachment dock is to assert the
primacy of the rule of law under our system of governance, and would
serve as a clear warning shot across the bow of future presidents.
4. Force CheneyBush to play defense. There is one other advantage
to initiating impeachment hearings ASAP for Bush and Cheney. The
Bush&Co. juggernaut is most effective when on the offensive and their
opponents are put on the defensive. The Bushistas don't like, and don't
do well, when they're forced to play defense. Tying them up in defending
themselves in impeachment hearings and/or impeachment trials might well
prevent them from doing more mischief before they give up the reins of
power. (Many Republicans were convinced they would never convict Bill
Clinton in the Senate but figured the trial was worth doing anyway
because it would hog-tie Clinton's agenda for the rest of his presidency
-- and they were correct.)
side-benefit of impeaching Bush and Cheney: John McCain would
find himself on the campaign trail being forced to take positions on
torture and signing statements at the heart of the impeachment hearings,
and, more often than not, would wind up either defending those unpopular
policies or promising never to repeat them.
WILL THE DEMS SURPRISE US ALL?
Will the Congressional Democratic leaders change their attitude toward
I think the answer is a clear No unless their constituencies loudly and
unwaveringly tell them they have to or risk the consequences at the
ballot box, or in the possible establishment of a new,
grassroots-engendered party after the November election that will
demonstrate the courage and passion for ethical and reality-based
government that is so lacking in today's timid, Bush-enabling Democratic
That, unfortunately, is where we are politically in the Spring of 2008.
It doesn't have to be that way.
Copyright 2008 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught
government & international relations at universities in California and
Washington, worked as a writer/editor at the San Francisco Chronicle for two
decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).