The Logic of Impeachment
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has taken impeachment “off the table,” in line with Official Washington’s view that trying to oust George W. Bush and Dick Cheney would be an unpleasant waste of time. But there is emerging a compelling logic that an unprecedented dual impeachment might be vital to the future of the United States.
If some historic challenge is not made to the extraordinary assertions of power by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, the United States might lose its status as a democratic Republic based on a Constitution that adheres to the twin principles that no one is above the law and everyone is endowed with inalienable rights.
Over the past six-plus years, Bush has trampled on these traditional concepts of liberty and the rule of law time and again, even as he professes his love of freedom and democracy. Indeed, in Bush’s world, the word “freedom” has come to define almost its classical opposite.
Bush’s “freedom” means the right of the Executive to imprison enemies of the state indefinitely without charge and without even the centuries-old right of habeas corpus; Bush’s “freedom” tolerates coercion, torture or what the Founders called “cruel and unusual punishment” to extract confessions from detainees; it countenances surveillance of anyone – citizen and non-citizen alike – without a requirement for judicial review or evidence of probable cause that a crime is being committed; it sees no problem with the government and its private-sector allies teaming up to silence dissent.
Bush’s “freedom” also embraces the notion of a Commander in Chief acting as a quasi-dictator possessing “plenary” – or unlimited – powers in wartime, deciding which human beings on the planet get basic rights and which ones don’t.
Given the indefinite and boundless nature of the “war on terror,” which could last forever and extends to a global battlefield (including U.S. territory), Bush’s presidential powers also don’t represent just a temporary suspension of the Constitution in the face of a short-term emergency, but rather a permanent change in the American system of government.
After all, if one man possesses unlimited power, that means the rest of us hold our personal liberties at the leader’s forbearance, much as feudal subjects lived at the pleasure of the monarch, not as citizens who could stand up to the ruler with the firm knowledge that their basic rights of life and liberty were unshakeable.
As the so-called “unitary executive,” Bush asserts further his right to enforce the laws selectively, protecting friends and punishing enemies – and most of all, putting himself and his senior aides beyond the reach of the law.
Under these theories of presidential powers, Bush can ignore domestic laws, international treaty commitments and even the Constitution when he deems it necessary. Sometimes he just waives a law by issuing a “signing statement” declaring he won’t be bound by its restrictions. Other times, he makes ad hoc judgments as the mood suits him.
[For more on Bush’s assertions of power, see the new book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, co-authored by Robert Parry.]
Bush’s latest affront to the traditional American concept of checks and balances was to bar the Justice Department from handling contempt-of-Congress complaints lodged against White House aides who have invoked executive privilege rather than testify about the politically tainted firings of nine federal prosecutors, ones who didn't measure up as "loyal Bushies."
In Bush’s view, federal prosecutors can enforce the laws only the way he sees fit – and thus once he tells a subordinate not to testify, the Justice Department has no choice but to rebuff any efforts by Congress to compel testimony.
So, the “unitary executive” gets to decide how much congressional oversight will be allowed, regardless of an existing law which makes it the duty of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to take congressional contempt citations to a grand jury.
In similar cases in the past, the Executive Branch has averted a showdown by making compromises that were acceptable to Congress. But Bush has refused to budge from his position that the most Congress will be granted is an informal chat with his advisers without a transcript and with no chance to ask follow-up questions.
Bush is daring Congress to either mount a constitutional battle or submit to his will.
While this latest affront alone might not justify Congress seeking impeachment, the executive privilege ploy is only part of a larger pattern. It is the consistency of the White House arrogance, dating back to the earliest days of the Bush-Cheney administration, that argues for impeachment hearings against both Bush and Cheney.
Beyond their mutual disdain for the constitutional limits on executive power, Bush and Cheney have committed what the Founders would call “a long train of abuses,” including some – like refusing to “assent to laws” – which parallel the crimes of King George III as enunciated in the Declaration of Independence.
But arguably Bush and Cheney have committed offenses against the nation that are worse than the actions of King George III. Bush and Cheney, for instance, induced the United States to invade Iraq under false pretenses, a war that has caused grievous harm to the nation in loss of life, treasure and international standing.
Over the past five years, Bush and Cheney repeatedly have deceived the American people about the causes for war with Iraq – with Bush claiming even now that Saddam Hussein “chose” war by not disarming, although the U.S. intelligence community has long since concluded that Iraq did dispose of its unconventional weapons and had declared that fact accurately long before Bush ordered the invasion.
Beyond the administration’s brazen deceit and the horrendous death toll, the U.S. occupation of Iraq has let al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization that killed almost 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, off the hook.
According to a new National Intelligence Estimate, the Iraq War has helped al-Qaeda attract recruits, raise money and again threaten the American people. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush Is al-Qaeda’s Strategic Ally.”]
The Bush administration also has demonstrated gross incompetence in responding to national emergencies. Not only did Bush’s neglect of pre-9/11 warnings leave the United States vulnerable to attack, but Bush’s political cronyism contributed to the destruction of a leading American city, New Orleans, when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
There is also the issue of treasonous behavior by Bush and Cheney in the exposure of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame as part of a political attack on her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for criticizing Bush’s use of false intelligence to justify going to war with Iraq.
Even in the plot of the first “Mission Impossible” movie, it is recognized that the willful identification of CIA officers under “non-official cover” (or NOCs), the status of Valerie Plame, constitutes an act of treason.
In the Plame-gate affair, however, the government officials behind this security breach and the subsequent cover-up were George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Still, many leading Democrats argue that impeachment would just be an exercise in futility, because conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds majority and because the sizable Republican minorities in Congress would stick by Bush no matter what – which may indeed be true.
Impeachment hearings in the House, however, would at least focus the public’s attention on the severity of Bush’s offenses, demonstrate the pattern of abuse, and explain how this administration has deviated so far from the course laid out by the Founders.
Impeachment also offers a definable – and constitutionally envisioned – response to leaders who threaten the survival of the Republic. The Founders put the impeachment clause in the Constitution for exactly this kind of moment.
Even if impeachment didn’t reach the ultimate goal of removing Bush and Cheney, it would put down a marker of congressional resistance to executive abuses.
The public would get the point, too.
The current Democratic strategy of fighting and losing legislative battles over symbolic resolutions of disapproval or meaningless votes of no confidence only invites the consolidation of the Bush-Cheney vision of an all-powerful presidency.
The Democratic fecklessness also alienates the only logical allies in the fight to save the Republic, millions of citizens alarmed at the Bush-Cheney power grab.
In my neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, lawn signs have sprung up reading simply “Impeach Him” or “Impeach Them Both.” No one needs to say who the “him” and the “them” are.
From opinion polls, it’s clear, too, that Americans across the country are furious with Bush and Cheney. Many recognize that Bush and Cheney represent an unparalleled threat to core American principles, such as the concept of inalienable rights.
These millions of Americans are searching for some courageous politicians willing to take the lead. Instead, the people get all-night Iraq War debates that go nowhere – and empty promises that, some day down the road, the Democrats will finally get serious.
What these citizens want is for the Democrats to stiffen their spines and finally declare, loudly and clearly, “Impeach the bastards.”
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there.
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