For the second time in two months, a federal court has ruled that the president is in violation of the Constitution. This time it’s a federal court in Detroit that has ruled that President Bush has violated the Fourth Amendment against illegal search and seizure for his order to the National Security Agency to monitor the phone and Internet messages of Americans without bothering to obtain a court order based upon probable cause.
The first time, it was the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in late June that the president had violated the Constitution by asserting he had the power to ignore the Third Geneva Convention on Treatment of Prisoners of War-a treaty formally signed into law by the U.S. and made an integral part of the U.S. Criminal Code.
The important thing about these two rulings–and it is a point that the squeamish mainstream media have shied away from mentioning–is that they both are declaring the president to be a criminal. That is, he has been found in the first case to be in criminal violation of the Constitution, as well as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, and in the second, he has been found to be in violation of U.S. and International Law.
Note that when someone has committed a felony–say a bank robbery or a case of assault and battery or of murder–and when a court has found that person to be guilty of the crime in question, that person is from that moment hence considered a criminal. The case may be appealed to a higher court, but in the meantime, judgment has been rendered, and a penalty assigned.
In Bush’s case, the highest court in the land has reached its verdict in the War Crimes case involving Bush’s claim that as Commander in Chief he had the power to ignore both law and Constitution and declare captives in the so-called war on terror and in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to be excluded from the protections of the Geneva convention. The justices, by a margin of 5-3, declared that his claim was bogus. He has no power to ignore the Constitution, whether in wartime or peacetime. The clear result of that ruling is that the president is a war criminal.
The latest federal court decision, in a case brought by the ACLU, has reached the same conclusion, and on the same grounds. The president has been claiming that as commander in chief, he has the right to ignore both the FISA law passed by Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. And a federal judge has again found that his claim is bogus. The president, the judge has declared, is bound by the Constitution to follow the letter of the law, and has criminally failed to do so.
Now there has been no penalty established in either of these crimes, serious as they are, because under the Constitution, the president cannot be convicted or punished by a court unless he is first impeached and removed from office, but the facts of his serial criminal behavior has been established.
It is important to point out, as Barbara Olshansky and I have done in our book The Case for Impeachment, that impeachment is not, primarily, about actual criminal acts by a president. The Founders, when they included impeachment as a remedy for removing elected officials, including the president, from office, were clear that they were primarily concerned about political crimes, which may or may not be literally against the law. Such crimes, it is clear, referred to actions that threatened the political system–for example abuse of power, or lying to Congress or to the American people. At the same time, it is also clear that the Founders saw impeachment as an appropriate measure when a president actually breaks the law, if the violation is so serious as to threaten the political system or the welfare of the American people. So even if a higher court later overturned the Detroit federal court’s decision, Congress could still determine that the president had committed a political crime against the Constitution in authorizing warrantless domestic spying, and could impeach him.
What Bush and his administration have done in both of these cases falls clearly into that category. By claiming to be above the law and even above the Constitution, the president has in both the NSA spying case and in the Geneva Conventions case, claimed the power of an absolute despot. He has asserted that in time of war–including a so-called “war” on terror which clearly has nothing to do with an actual war–he operates without any checks and balances or any oversight.
He has twisted the role of commander in chief, which the Founders included in the powers of the presidency solely to insure that there would be a civilian responsible to the citizenry above any general, into the role of a generalissimo–a military ruler in charge of the entire nation.
The lock-step Republicans and spineless Democrats in Congress have not challenged this coup by lexicographical manipulation, but the judicial branch has thrown down the gantlet.
Now it is time for the People of the United States to follow up this action.
In November, all the members of the House of Representatives are up for election, along with one-third of the Senate.
For the sake of the future of Constitutional government and for the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, it is essential that the American people wake up and replace in November all those members of Congress who have allowed this presidential dictatorship to develop unchecked.
The courts have spoken: this president is a criminal on multiple counts. Now the process moves to our elected representatives in Washington. No member of Congress who is unwilling to hold Bush and his accomplices to account and initiate impeachment proceedings against him for his crimes and violations of the Constitution should be returned to office in November.
Some critics have argued that impeachment is an unnecessary diversion from the task of government, since Bush will be gone in 2008 anyway. These people miss the point that leaving this president’s crimes and constitutional affronts unchallenged and unpunished would enshrine his transgressions in the mantle of precedent, allowing the next president and her or his successors to pick up wherever Bush leaves off.
To do that would be to sign the death warrant for American democracy.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book, “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is due out May 1.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org