The Bush administration’s full-court press against the Constitution is on, with the president getting closer to Senate, and possibly full Congressional approval of his warrantless spying program by the National Security Agency, and with a lobbying campaign on to get his program for kangaroo courts and life-time detention without trial for terror “war” detainees approved by Congress.
It’s staggering to see this happening after a federal court just ruled that NSA spying without a show of probable cause is a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment, and after the US Supreme Court just ruled that Bush was in violation of the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of POWs for refusing to treat the detainees at Guantanamo in accordance with US and International Law.
One might think this to be a case of a powerful president just steamrolling the courts and the Congress, but I think it is not a sign of strength, but rather the desperate act of a man who sees impeachment in his future, and who is acting while he can to try to cover up a few of his crimes.
For while the list of this president’s crimes against the Constitution, the Republic and the People of the United States is long and ugly, the truth is that the two areas where he is the most vulnerable to impeachment are precisely the two that he is working so hard now to make go away: the warrantless NSA spying program and the abuse of the detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere.
This is because the president has already been found, in the first instance by a federal district court judge, and in the second by the full Supreme Court, to be a criminal (if you violate the law, you are by definition a criminal). It’s just that as president he cannot simply be indicted and put on trial. That’s why we have impeachment.
Bush and his legal adviser, the ethically and morally challenged Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who heads what is still officially called the “Justice” Department, but which has become more of an Enabling Department at this point, both know that if the House of Representatives is captured by the Democrats in November (only 15 seats need to change hands), there almost certainly will be impeachment hearings against the president. They know too that even Republican control of the Senate is at risk, which would make changing laws in his favor impossible.
This means that if they want to change the laws so that the president’s crimes against the Constitution can be retroactively made legal, the sleight-of-hand needs to be completed in the next eight weeks, while the Republicans are firmly in charge of both houses of Congress.
Democrats are foolishly allowing this to happen, afraid to look “weak on terror,” the charge that was leveled against them in the 2002 and 2204 campaigns. Their strategy, if it even deserves such a weighty characterization, is to lie low, and let Republicans debate among themselves the merits of letting the president spy on Americans at will without first clearing it with a judge, and of letting him institute detention without trial, and trial without the right to face one’s accuser and to know the evidence being used to convict.
These are both terrible precedents to be setting, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress all know it. Hundreds of thousands of American patriots have died defending the Bill of Rights, and here we see a craven president, a lock-step Republican Congress and a cowardly Democratic opposition colluding to trash three of those treasured amendments in a flurry of pre-election activity.
The good news is that it probably won’t work.
Even if the president succeeds in twisting enough arms to win approval for his kangaroo court at Guantanamo, it will not erase the fact that for five years he has held captives (including children as young as 7!) from the War in Afghanistan and from his program of kidnapping people all around the world in detention without recourse to a legitimate tribunal, and without protection from torture and abuse, all in violation of not only the Geneva Conventions, but of U.S. criminal law. Even if he succeeds in getting the law changed to allow him to spy on Americans without a warrant, Congress has no power to waive the Fourth Amendment, which requires probable cause before the government can seize property and monitor communications.
Furthermore, there is that huge list of other crimes, ranging from the president’s refusal to provide information demanded by Congress and by the 9-11 Commission regarding what the administration knew and did before and during the 9-11 attacks, to his lying about the reasons for invading Iraq and his willful invalidating of over 850 laws or parts of laws passed by Congress (the signing statements).
That said, the Democratic Party is making a huge and historic mistake by urging Congressional Democrats to sit on their hands while Republicans debate these crucial issues, and by having campaigning candidates for Congress duck the issue of President Bush’s impeachable crimes. First of all, it is insulting the intelligence of the American voter for Democrats to pretend, as does House minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), that impeachment will be “off the table” if Democrats retake the House in November. Of course Democrats will hold impeachment hearings in November; they will have to, if only to challenge the president’s claim that he can ignore acts of Congress by issuing “signing statements.”
Second, it is simply stupid politics. For over a year, the Democratic leadership has been flailing around trying to find a rallying cry that could energize and excite the Democratic base to increase voter turnout this November. So far this effort has been a dismal failure. Unable to take a stand on Iraq, they have turned to their usual grab-bag of failed “wedge” mini-issues–stem cell research, education funding, gas prices and the like-all to little effect. And yet here’s impeachment staring them in the face. An overwhelming majority of Democrats want this president impeached-for the Iraq War, for defiling the constitution, for messing up in New Orleans, for authorizing torture, and for being a dolt. Polls suggest that a majority of all voters and a sizeable chunk of Republican voters agree, if for different reasons (many genuine conservatives are aghast at the president’s trashing of the Constitution).
Why don’t Democrats just try standing up for a change and make “Impeach the president!” their campaign slogan for the fall? Heck, they could even appropriate Neal Young’s song “Let’s impeach the President” as a campaign anthem.
While I don’t expect to see that happen-Democratic leaders are too afraid of their own shadows-the good news is that Bush has screwed things up so badly, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and here at home, that it may not matter. The Democrats may win back Congress by default. And then I think Bush has it right. He will face impeachment because as cowardly as the Democrats may be, they will have no choice but to do the right thing.
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: email@example.com
On Sunday, 9/17, Lindorff will be speaking at 10 am on the National Mall in Washington, DC as part of the Camp Democracy program.