On May 31st last year Ralph Nader and I wrote in the Boston Globe: "Based on the mountains of fabrications, deceptions, and lies, it is time to debate the ‘I’ word."
Today, I would say it differently: The President and Vice President have so clearly violated the rule of law and so systematically abused the powers of their office that they need to be removed from office.
The recent admission that the President was wiretapping while ignoring the Foreign Intelligence Security Act has once again opened up the possibility of impeachment. Indeed, there are press reports that the Administration is preparing for impeachment and sees the upcoming hearings on the FISA violations as a precursor to impeachment. And, a google search of Bush impeachment finds the issue is being discussed throughout the country.
The prime responsibility for impeachment is with the American people. We must stand up against the illegal actions of the Bush Administration. At an impeachment forum in Washington, DC, Ramsey Clark, the Attorney General for President Lyndon Johnson, described working for impeachment as the "most important obligation of a citizen of the U.S. at this moment." He said that both Bush and Cheney are "the greatest threat to peace, justice, the rule of law, the environment and to the U.S. Constitution, that the people face today. The survival of life on the planet is at risk."
Impeachment is another issue that shows the disconnect between elected representatives and the people. According to a January 2006 poll by Zogby, by a margin of 52% to 43%, Americans want Congress to consider impeaching President Bush if he wiretapped American citizens without a judge’s approval. Democrats supported impeachment for this reason by 66%, 59% of Independents and 23% of Republicans. In an earlier poll, by a margin of 53% to 42%, Americans want Congress to impeach President Bush if he lied about the war in Iraq, according to a November 2005 poll by Zogby polling. According to the poll, 76% of Democrats favored impeachment, compared to 50% of Independents and 29% of Republicans. An earlier poll conducted by Ipsos in October 2005 found that by a margin of 50% to 44%, Americans want Congress to consider impeaching President Bush if he lied about the war in Iraq. According to the Ipsos poll, 72% of Democrats favored impeachment, compared to 56% of Independents and 20% of Republicans.
There is much greater support for the impeachment of President Bush then there was for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. In August and September of 1998, 16 major polls asked about impeaching President Clinton. Only 36% supported hearings to consider impeachment, and only 26% supported actual impeachment and removal.
And, opposition to Bush cuts across the United States. It is particularly evident in the foreign policy leadership of the US. For example, recently General William Odom, who worked in the National Security Council for President Reagan and President Carter spoke to a group of former foreign service, intelligence and military officials in Washington, DC. General Odom is a strong supporter of the U.S. military and believes that the U.S. empire is good for the world. But, he is opposed to President Bush on the Iraq War. When he was asked by a member of the foreign policy establishment what could be done about President Bush, his answer was "how do you impeach a president?"
The potential list of impeachable offenses includes:
- An illegal war — The Iraq War violates domestic law, as there has been no declaration of war by Congress. It violates international law and the UN Charter as a war of aggression. The violation of the UN Charter is a turnaround for the United States. As Marcus Raskin, founder of the Institute for Policy Studies pointed out at a recent impeachment forum in Washington, DC, after WWII, the U.S. led the fight for the creation of the UN and for the adoption of a Charter that prohibited "wars of aggression." He said that the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leadership contributed to that movement for change. When a country is engaged in an illegal war it means that every US death or injury, every Iraqi death and injury, every person tortured, every building destroyed is a war crime.
- The conduct of the war is in violation of international treaty obligations under the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Conventions. These are treaties that the United States has signed and ratified. As a result they are the rule of law and must be obeyed by the United States and our elected officials. The conduct of the war includes the use of depleted uranium, chemical weapons and the mass killing of civilians.
- The torture scandals and the violations of US criminal laws at the highest levels of our government are violations of the Geneva Convention. The torture trail goes back to the President and Vice President. President Bush has said: "the U.S. doesn’t torture." But we have seen the photos and news reports describing Guantanamo Bay, the secret prisons and the rendition of US prisoners to other countries to be tortured. The fact of US torture makes it clear that President Bush is Nixonian in his "I am not a torturer" dishonesty. At a signing ceremony of the new law banning torture Bush exclaimed he does not have to obey this law if it inconsistent with his duties as Commander in Chief.
- President Bush directed the wiretapping of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Americans, for four years in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — and the very dangerous claim that, as Commander in Chief, he has the right in the interests of national security to override US laws.
Why impeachment? Because it is the Constitutional duty of Congress. Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution states: "The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
A high crime or misdemeanor means a serious abuse of power, whether or not it is also a crime, that endangers our constitutional system of government. In this case President Bush and Vice President Cheney have committed crimes — indeed the violation of FISA alone is a five-year felony. While impeachment should not be lightly pursued, Congress must exercise its responsibility and safeguard our democracy. No President can be permitted to commit high crimes and misdemeanors with impunity.
The President and Vice President are justifying their actions — their impeachable offenses — by claiming we are a nation at war. The predictions are the war on terror will go on for the next two decades, maybe for generations. Thus it is especially important to recognize the limits of the executive. There is no imperial president in the Constitution. Indeed, the Constitution created a strong legislature and a president with limited powers. The Congress needs to send a strong signal to future Presidents that they must obey the law — that the war on terrorism does not justify their behaving as if the laws of the nation do not apply to them.
Indeed, the U.S. government is one of limited powers with strong checks and balances. Those checks do not vanish in wartime; the President’s role as Commander in Chief does not erase Congress’s powers or the Bill of Rights. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recently wrote, "A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens."
It is time for Congress to act, to take responsibility, to reassert its role as an equal branch of government. If the majority in Congress will not make the President and Vice President obey the law — act within the law — then the minority must stand above them and show the legislatures role as co-conspirators in undermining US laws. The issue of whether the President and Vice President are above the law or subject to the law should become the central issue in the 2006 campaign. If it does the people will re-assert their preference for a government of laws, of checks and balances and of three equal branches of government.
To see the forum on impeachment featuring Kevin Zeese, Cindy Sheehan, well-known peace activist, Ramsey Clark, the former Attorney General for President Johnson, Ann Wright a 29 year veteran of the Army and 16 years in the foreign service (quit to protest the Iraq War), David Swanson, founder of Impeach PAC and AfterDowningStreet.org, Marcus Raskin founder of the Institute for Policy Studies (who was prosecuted by co-panelist Clark during the Vietnam War era!) visit this link.