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Gary Leupp: Making the Case for Impeachment

The just-published The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office by CounterPuncher Dave Lindorff and Barbara Olshansky is more than a manual for the members of Congress---those who under the constitution are empowered to impeach high officials---who might consider Bush’s impeachment after the November elections. It’s a compact (275 pages, including 60 pages of appendices and footnotes) catalogue of administration deceit and criminality that should encourage any honest still-unconvinced person to join the movement to drive out the Bush regime. As the authors observe, it will require a growing movement to force the politicians, who’ve been characterized so far by abject cowardice, to move forward on the procedure. If they do, we’ll be able to thank the authors for helping them make the right choice. If they don’t, the work will stand as an implicit indictment of them while continuing to inform those serious about real “regime change” in this country.

In their preface the authors declare optimistically, “If a Democratic majority is elected to the House in November 2006, we are confident that a bill of impeachment will be introduced early in the next Congress…” (p. xi).

But one shouldn’t be too optimistic. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California said the other day, “We [Democrats] don’t even have a party position on the war. We don’t ask members to do one thing or another.” She’s also said “Impeachment’s off the table.” One should read the book with such statements in mind.

Six of the eleven chapters begin with proposed articles of impeachment and then elaborate the charges: (1) criminally invading Iraq, (2) criminal negligence in ignoring warnings of the 9-11 attacks, (3) violating the constitutional rights of citizens, (4) violating the law in disclosing the name of a CIA undercover operative to punish her whistle-blowing husband, (5) violating international law by the illegal invasion of Iraq and by torturing captives, and (6) criminal negligence in failing to protect the lives of Americans’ lives and property. The latter includes cases ranging from the shortages of body armor for U.S. troops in Iraq to the bungling of the Katrina hurricane episode.

These actions, of course, involve many people. Bill Clinton was impeached for the very individual act of lying to investigators about a very private matter of little consequence to the world. Al Gore, Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, and Sandy Berger weren’t in on his Oval Office indiscretion. But Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice have been deeply involved in Bush’s crimes. Then there’s the Office of Special Plans and its connections to the monolithic pro-regime disinformation-dispensing corporate press, and the compliant Congress and judiciary. This widespread diffusion of the rot is one of the problems with the impeachment case.

Lindorff and Olshansky succinctly present such a compelling picture of system-wide “evil” (to appropriate one of Bush’s favorite religiously-colored terms) in recent history that it may be hard for the reader to imagine how a mere impeachment procedure could really produce the changes required to prevent recrudescence of the evil.

Bush should of course personally pay the price for deeds during his presidency that have led to tens of thousands of deaths, the ruin of a country, the considerable magnification of hatred for the U.S. throughout the world, the dramatic rise in fascist trends in the U.S., etc. This can be done through impeachment, the authors argue throughout, especially in Chapters 3 and 4 that provide useful historical background to the process. But they note too that the impeachable actions stem from Bush’s pre-presidential personal career (p. 18f); the farcical 2000 election that arguably discredits the whole political system, Supreme Court and Congress included (p. 16); and the neocons’ well-articulated pre-election agenda for world conquest (p. 30). They note (pp. 27, 55-6) the involvement of key players in the administration in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. They note (p. 24) that Cheney was primarily responsible for appointing the Bush cabinet after the election. (I think they might have more emphasized the role of the neocon cabal in handling the planning for the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, managing the slick disinformation connecting the two, and deftly diverting attention from itself to the CIA---and supposed “intelligence failures”---after its lies about Iraq were revealed from mid-2003.) They show, in other words, that long before a vicious man launched an illegal war in Southwest Asia, there was certain widespread viciousness in the American polity itself.

But in building the “legal argument” for removing Bush from office Lindorff and Olshansky don’t indict the whole system.

This makes sense given the limited objective of their work: to get people to “stand up in November” and vote in a Democratic-led House, which---but only if pushed by a well-mobilized mass movement---will bring in a “next president” who “will be much more respectful to the Constitution…and to all of us” (p. xii). That would likely mean a president who would retain much of the new repressive legal apparatus consecrated by both parties since 9-11 and serviceable to any future administration---including one led by Hillary Clinton, who could be as vicious as any predecessor. If the objective is to get back to the eighteenth century Constitution (which face it, has its own limitations) that, it seems to me, is just not likely. Impeachment could however rock the political boat and make the future interesting, maybe producing some hopeful, dramatic results. (Recent history is filled with unexpected collapses and reversals.)

In Chapter 5, elaborating charge (1), the authors make clear what so many others have: the fact that the administration wanted to attack Iraq, immediately after 9-11 if not earlier, and proceeded to build a case saleable to the gullible, frightened American populace. There is only brief mention of the Office of Special Plans, although many commentators have emphasized its function as the Chalabi-connected, neocon-directed “Lie Factory” that sold the war. It remains unclear whether it and its cousin, the White House Iraq Group (assigned broader PR and news “spin” functions), generated disinformation to persuade an ignorant president---or produced the bogus reports at the president’s own request to fool the people. (“If I have a chance to invade [Iraq]---if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it,” Bush told a biographer in 1999. “I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”) But in noting that the war was “based on lies” the authors, who fault correctly both the “President and his agents” (p. 59) in making “false statements” about Iraq, might have more emphasized this Lie Factory and its existence independent of the Commander-in-Chief.

In Chapter 6 (“Dark Questions About a Dark Day”) the authors note the dozens of warnings about a 9-11 style attack to which the administration was, or should have been, aware in the months before the attacks. I feel dubious about the suggestion that the Bush administration is somehow protecting the Saudi royals and the hugely wealthy bin Laden clan “to prevent any public awareness of the links” to itself (p. 90). (It should be noted that the Saudis have requested that the blacked-out 28 pages in the Senate Intelligence Report on 9-11 that pertain to Saudi Arabia be made public.)

But this chapter does what it sets out to do—raise questions, without sensationalism. Indeed, by avoiding the questions raised by some physicists about the very physical plausibility of the administration’s explanation for the Twin Towers’ collapse it errs on the side of caution.

Chapter 7 is a devastating critique of the illegal surveillance of Americans that has occurred since 9-11 and the passage of the Orwellianly-named PATRIOT Act. But in raising the matter of the administration’s “Taking Liberties” it notes the complicity of the entire Congress in letting this happen, and it maintains that the surveillance has been more for “political” reasons than for purposes of attacking and silencing the antiwar movement (pp. 109-110). I don’t think we can draw a firm line between the two, and it’s a line in any case that’s moving over time. There are some points, here and elsewhere in the book, that could be better documented in making a ‘legal argument.” On p. 115, for example, the the authors that that the number of those rounded up immediately after 9-11 “could easily exceed five thousand.” But there’s no footnote.

On the other hand the logic of the analysis seems accurate, and chilling. Among the most memorable passages in the book occurs on pp. 118-19, where the authors note the very real prospect that anyone in this country linked by email to a “terrorist organization” (as defined by the State Department, a flawed human institution) could be “packed off, without your family’s knowledge, to a military base in a remote state, or perhaps to Guantanamo.”

Of course, the American people don’t decide who gets targeted as a “terrorist organization.” The State Department decides, and the Congress rubber-stamps the list, and if you disagree and have ties with a blacklisted group, say goodbye to any supposition you have rights!

Article IV, as outlined at the opening of Chapter 8, takes the administration to task for its vindictive “outing” of Valerie Plame. It states that the president “lied to the American people” about his own “role in the disclosure,” although elsewhere in the book (pp. 134, 184) the authors admit that Bush might not in fact have known what Cheney, Libby and others were doing in connection with the Plame Affair.

Without wanting to leave Bush off the hook, I’d just suggest that he may be stupider than many of us suspect. This could be an important point; recall how the “Teflon President” Ronald Reagan used his own claim of a hands-off “managerial style” excuse to distance himself from the activities of such subordinates as Elliott Abrams and John Negroponte during the Iran-Contra scandal.

Chapter 9 begins with a proposed fifth article of impeachment, noting the president’s violations of international law, including the Nuremburg Tribunal Charter and the Geneva Conventions.

It effectively documents the role of Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft and Michael Chertoff in legitimating torture and is especially useful in revisiting the mostly forgotten John Walker Lindh episode. Lindorff and Olshansky describe (pp. 148-51) how an idealistic 19-year old California youth and convert to Islam, in Afghanistan in 2001 with Taliban forces still friendly towards the U.S., fighting against Northern Alliance forces backed by Russia and India, got unexpectedly dragged into a confrontation between his Afghan hosts and the invading U.S. military. The kid was forked over to U.S. forces by a fascist Northern Alliance warlord, brutalized and then forced under a plea bargain to admit guilt to crimes he hadn’t committed---to protect the U.S. from charges of torture. Now he’s in prison for 20 years. This is important exposure and the authors deserve much credit for it.

Finally, Article VI, leading into Chapter 10. The president hasn’t protected the people; quite the contrary. My first thought in reading this accusation was that it pertains to U.S. presidents generally, and that from a purely legal point of view (not that, as the authors reiterate, normal legal standards are required in impeachment hearings) this would be hard to demonstrate. On page 159 they state that “even after he had been informed the New Orleans levees had broken [Bush] went golfing, resulting in needless death…” Seems to me that Bush on his cell phone from the golf course could have issued orders, so the connection here’s not really clear. Again, it’s an issue of a whole system of indifference and incompetence.

The authors note, very importantly, the unprecedented degree to which Bush, encouraged by Sam Alito, has issued “signing documents” after appending his signature to laws passed by Congress. These indicate his assumption that he can lawfully ignore the legislature. But they note too that others before him have done the same, and when they aver (p. 161) that “The sheer scale of the Bush use of such documents represents a qualitative difference,” I can just hear the rightist counter-argument, “Why’s it qualitative, not just quantitative---and appropriate in a special time of war”?

In Chapter 11 the authors discuss the issue of “Impeaching Other Bush Administration Officials.” But how could one impeach Bush without impeaching the whole damned batch? Saturday Night Live had it right from the start, depicting Dubya sitting on Cheney’s knee. How could we possibly imagine Bush impeached and succeeded by his unpopular VP?

It was the latter who more than anyone orchestrated the Iraq War, is planning the Iran and Syria attacks, and wants to create an empire from Afghanistan to Syria to encircle China. But while there are references to Cheney throughout the book, and to his connections to the neocon detail-men in the Terror War, the section on him occupies only five pages and focuses on torture and Halliburton. I’d put the focus on his involvement in deliberate disinformation, the psy-ops directed at the American people to get them to back imperialist war.

Rumsfeld gets twice as much space as Cheney, mostly devoted to the torture issue. But Rumsfeld also ought to be impeached for nurturing the Office for Special Plans’ disinformation campaign to justify the criminal Iraq War. The authors indict Condi Rice for lies, appropriately, and Gonzales for his sick nazi-like reinterpretations of American law.

But how do you accomplish the necessary goal---of impeaching the whole lot of these monsters---in a climate of not-quite-yet but encroaching fascism everywhere you look in America? The mainstream media will naturally ignore this book. News anchors have their marching orders and they know what topics are off limits and even what wording should surround controversial issues. Academia becomes increasingly cowardly, hounded by well-funded fascist operatives who can call up and mobilize wealthy donors demanding censorship with great efficiency. Driving out the Bush regime will be a very difficult undertaking. Not a surgical operation on U.S. imperialism to be conducted by some politically transformed, enlightened Congress but a mass movement with bigger goals in mind than finding a president who will “help us take back our country” (p. xi).

Have we---most of us---ever really had a country to “take back,” though? Could we maybe, learning from the past, make a new one? While raising these questions, I recommend this book as a searing exposé of an administration that deserves whatever opposition and resistance it may encounter.

Read entire article at Counterpunch