The Breaking Strain

Submitted by PAAMember on January 4, 2006 - 7:00pm. ::

The Breaking Strain
By William Rivers Pitt

Wednesday 21 December 2005

The framers of the Constitution devised an elaborate system of checks
and balances to ensure our liberty by making sure that no person,
institution or branch of government became so powerful that a tyranny
could be established in the United States of America. Impeachment is
one of the checks the framers gave the Congress to prevent the
executive or judicial branches from becoming corrupt or tyrannical.

- Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Opening Statement, Impeachment
of William Jefferson Clinton, 10 December 1998
A long time ago - before the Iraq invasion, before the elections in
'02 and '04, before all the unprecedented governmental violations of
trust we have discovered and endured - I wrote something for a book.

"This is America," I wrote. "At bottom, America is a dream, an idea.
You can take away all our roads, our crops, our people, our cities,
our armies - you can take all of that away, and the idea will still
be there as pure and great as anything conceived by the human mind. I
do very much believe that the idea that is America stands as the
last, best hope for this world. When used properly, it can work
wonders. That idea, that dream, is in mortal peril. You can still
have all our roads, our crops, our people, our cities, our armies -
you can have all of that. But if you murder the idea that is America,
you have murdered America itself in a way that ten thousand 9/11s
could never do. No terrorist can destroy the ideals we hold dear.
Only we can do that."

The breaking strain has been reached, and those ideals we hold so
dear are indeed in mortal peril. The President of the United States
of America has declared himself fully and completely above the law.
The Constitution does not matter to him, nor do the Amendments. Laws
passed to safeguard the American people from intrusive governmental
invasion have been cast aside and ignored, simply because George W.
Bush finds it meet to do so.

Intolerable. Impeachable.

As has been widely reported, Mr. Bush authorized the National
Security Agency to spy on American citizens. He activated this
program in 2002, and has since reauthorized the program thirty times.
No one knows for sure exactly who in this country has unwittingly
endured investigation by the powerful and secretive NSA. Cindy
Sheehan? Patrick Fitzgerald? Joseph Wilson? Non-violent protest
organizations? You? Me? No one knows, but the unanswered questions
shake the existence of our democracy to its bones.

It is not enough that Mr. Bush blew through the Fourth Amendment,
which defends the citizenry from unreasonable searches and seizures.
It isn't enough that Mr. Bush blew through the 1978 Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires a warrant from a
special FISA court be obtained before such surveillance is
undertaken. For the record, this special FISA court has granted more
than 19,000 such warrants, and has denied exactly four.

The worst part of this whole mess is the simple fact that Mr. Bush
does not see anything wrong in this. This administration has
steadfastly adhered to the idea that the Executive branch is supreme,
beyond the bounds of the justice system and further empowered because
we are "at war."

Of course, Mr. Bush was careful to speak otherwise. For example,
during a speech in Buffalo back in April of 2004, Bush said, "Now, by
the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about
wiretap, it requires - a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has
changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down
terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do
so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you
think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it
comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we
value the Constitution."

We're talking about getting a court order, he said. We value the
Constitution, he said.


Mr. Bush, in fact, brought the editors of the New York Times into the
Oval Office to browbeat them into not running their story on these
illegal NSA activities. "Bush was desperate to keep the Times from
running this important story - which the paper had already
inexplicably held for a year - because he knew that it would reveal
him as a law-breaker," wrote columnist Jonathan Alter for Newsweek on
Monday. "He insists he had 'legal authority derived from the
Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.' But the
Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And
the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing 'all necessary
force' in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military
intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the
president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of
fighting terrorism."

Intolerable. Impeachable.

Even Attorney General Gonzales agrees with these sentiments. During
his January 2005 confirmation hearings before Congress, Sen. Russ
Feingold queried Gonzales on whether Mr. Bush has, "at least in
theory, the authority to authorize violations of the criminal law
under duly enacted statutes simply because he's commander in chief?"
Gonzales replied, "Senator, this president is not - I - it is not the
policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that
would be in contravention of our criminal statutes."

Mr. Gonzales, it appears, did not get the memo.

Rep. John Conyers and the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary
Committee have compiled a massively detailed, impeccably-researched
report on the activities of this administration titled "The
Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception,
Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War."
The report runs some 273 pages. A portion of the Executive Summary
reads as follows:

In brief, we have found that there is substantial evidence the
President, the Vice President and other high ranking members of the
Bush Administration misled Congress and the American people regarding
the decision to go to war with Iraq; misstated and manipulated
intelligence information regarding the justification for such war;
countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and
other legal violations in Iraq; and permitted inappropriate
retaliation against critics of their Administration.
There is a prima facie case that these actions by the President, Vice-
President and other members of the Bush Administration violated a
number of federal laws, including (1) Committing a Fraud against the
United States; (2) Making False Statements to Congress; (3) The War
Powers Resolution; (4) Misuse of Government Funds; (5) federal laws
and international treaties prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman,
and degrading treatment; (6) federal laws concerning retaliating
against witnesses and other individuals; and (7) federal laws and
regulations concerning leaking and other misuse of intelligence.

While these charges clearly rise to the level of impeachable
misconduct, because the Bush Administration and the Republican-
controlled Congress have blocked the ability of Members to obtain
information directly from the Administration concerning these
matters, more investigatory authority is needed before
recommendations can be made regarding specific Articles of
Impeachment. As a result, we recommend that Congress establish a
select committee with subpoena authority to investigate the
misconduct of the Bush Administration with regard to the Iraq war
detailed in this Report and report to the Committee on the Judiciary
on possible impeachable offenses.

This report was completed before the revelations of Bush-authorized
domestic spying, and its release has added to the maelstrom. Upon
issuance of the report, Rep. Conyers put forth three resolutions for
consideration by the House of Representatives:

H.RES.635 : Creating a select committee to investigate the
Administration's intent to go to war before congressional
authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and
countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make
recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.
H.RES.636 : Censuring President George W. Bush for failing to respond
to requests for information concerning allegations that he and others
in his Administration misled Congress and the American people
regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, misstated and
manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for
the war, countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading
treatment of persons in Iraq, and permitted inappropriate retaliation
against critics of his Administration, for failing to adequately
account for specific misstatements he made regarding the war, and for
failing to comply with Executive Order 12958.

H.RES.637 : Censuring Vice President Richard B. Cheney for failing to
respond to requests for information concerning allegations that he
and others in the Administration misled Congress and the American
people regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, misstated and
manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for
the war, countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading
treatment of persons in Iraq, and permitted inappropriate retaliation
against critics of the Administration and for failing to adequately
account for specific misstatements he made regarding the war.

Columnist John Nichols offered an astute analysis of the meaning
behind the Conyers report, the proffered resolutions, and their
issuance on the heels of the NSA revelations. "The Conyers
resolutions add a significant new twist to the debate about how to
hold the administration to account," wrote Nichols. "Members of
Congress have become increasingly aggressive in the criticism of the
White House, with U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, saying
Monday, 'Americans have been stunned at the recent news of the abuses
of power by an overzealous President. It has become apparent that
this Administration has engaged in a consistent and unrelenting
pattern of abuse against our Country's law-abiding citizens, and
against our Constitution.'"

"Even Republicans," continued Nichols, "including Senate Judiciary
Committee chair Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, are talking for the
first time about mounting potentially serious investigations into
abuses of power by the president. But Conyers is seeking to do much
more than schedule a committee hearing, or even launch a formal
inquiry. He is proposing that the Congress use all of the powers that
are available to it to hold the president and vice president to
account - up to and including the power to impeach the holders of the
nation's most powerful positions and to remove them from office."

Many political pragmatists will tell you that impeachment is a pipe
dream. If the God of the Righteous roared down from Heaven and
denounced George W. Bush from the top of the Capitol dome,
Republicans in Congress would denounce Him as a traitor, paint Him as
standing against the troops, and accuse Him of aiding in the War on
Christmas. In other words, the odds that enough Republican members of
the House would turn against this administration and support
impeachment are about as good as the odds of my cat winning next
year's Kentucky Derby.

Even if the odds are defied and impeachment hearings are successfully
undertaken, one must go many steps down the ladder to find an
official worthy of the office. Impeach Bush and you get Cheney.
Impeach Cheney and you get Dennis Hastert. Impeach Hastert and you
get Ted Stevens, the 82-year-old Senator from Alaska who recently
threatened to resign from the Senate if funding for his "Bridge to
Nowhere" was stripped and delivered to aid in the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina.

Pragmatism is good, but hardly the point in this matter. We have gone
far beyond consideration of the odds, of the smartest and safest
course. This is not about Clintonian lies about sex, nor is it even
about Nixonian spying on political appointees. In the simplest terms,
we now have a self-appointed dictator occupying the highest office of
the land. Of course, the catch-all excuse for these reprehensible
actions is that Bush is protecting our freedoms against the
terrorists. But if our freedoms are destroyed, what is left to
protect? If the rule of law no longer has meaning, why bother? If
that which makes this nation good and great is burned out from
within, there is nothing left to defend.

Calls for the impeachment of George W. Bush must be heeded, and the
House must act. This must happen not because it is pragmatic, not
because it stands a chance of succeeding. This must happen because
the issues at hand demand it. If we as a nation do not impeach a
sitting President for such a vast array of blatantly illegal
activities, activities directed at the American people themselves,
then as a nation of laws we have lost our way. We have no meaning. We
are finished, and the ideals for which so many have served and fought
and died are ashes.

Intolerable. Impeachable.