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Is Peace or Impeachment Possible?
By David Swanson
[Remarks at September 15, 2007, impeachment rally in Miami, Fla., organized by www.floridaimpeach.org ]
It's great to see such a crowd and so many groups represented. I especially want to thank Veterans for Peace. Dave Cline was a great leader and will be badly missed. We should all go out and do as much as he did with his admirable life.
On a lighter note, I went to a party yesterday in Washington, D.C. You might think we have very little to celebrate, but this was a party to say goodbye and good riddance to Alberto Gonzales!
You won’t hear much about it on the news, but a bill had been introduced in July to impeach Gonzales, and it was gaining support during the August recess. In fact a bunch of Congress Members added their names to the list of cosponsors this month even though Gonzales had already announced his resignation. This was not the first time that an effort to impeach helped force out an unjust attorney general. An effort to impeach Richard Nixon forced him out as well. An effort to impeach Harry Truman led to the Supreme Court checking his abuses of power. In fact the threat of impeachment is usually enough to restore a level of justice and democracy in Washington, D.C. A promise not to impeach, on the other hand, tends to encourage abuses of power and is itself an unconstitutional abuse of power.
I wanted to mention Gonzo's departure because it's the only good news I have. None of the policies that Gonzales advanced have been reversed, and we are unlikely to see an honest attorney general assume office anytime soon. Nine of the 10 articles of our Bill of Rights are in tatters. And they don't make us house soldiers in our homes (which is our tenth and sole remaining right) because they tax us to pay for barracks and bases in this country, plus dozens of permanent military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in fact about 1,000 permanent bases in nations all over the world. We have lost the right not to be detained and held without charge, the right not to be tortured, and the right not to be spied on in our homes. We have lost the World Trade Center, a piece of the Pentagon, and the city of New Orleans. We have moved dangerously close to the point of no turning back on global warming. We have encouraged the proliferation of weapons around the world, driven much of the world to hate our nation, and watched a general this week brag to Congress about how many weapons we are selling to Iraq. But the term "we" now refers to the private companies that will profit from the weapons sales, the private companies that our grandchildren will pay for the reconstruction of Iraq that never happened, and the private companies we enrich every time we stop at a gas station. We have lost the right to organize a labor union, and we are rapidly losing the right to protest. We are penned into Orwellian free speech zones or arrested for holding a sign on a street corner. Should a catastrophe hit the US, everything is in place for martial law. And while it cannot find the decency to hold Bush administration outlaws in contempt, our Congress holds peace activists in contempt of Congress, when the Capitol Police don't tackle and beat them in the halls of Congress. Well, I've got news for you. Not only is there a huge march and civil disobedience action today in Washington for peace and impeachment, but we are ready to hold Congress in contempt of the citizens of the United States of America.
Yesterday a second study was published. There have now been two studies done of how many Iraqis have died violent deaths as a result of our invasion and occupation of their country. The first was done by Johns Hopkins over a year ago and has been updated by Just Foreign Policy. The second was done by a well-respected British organization. The results of each study fall within the margin of error of the other. We are responsible for the deaths of between 1.1 and 1.3 million Iraqis. Another 4 million Iraqis out of a population of 25 million have been displaced from their homes, half of them to other countries. Most Iraqis lack adequate water and electricity. Half the nation needs emergency assistance. A quarter of the children are malnourished. And more than that number are traumatized and filled with hatred. A majority of Iraqis say things are getting worse and want the US occupation ended. The progress General Petraeus talks about not only is based on numbers he won't explain, not only is based on claims disputed by numerous other sources, but it's also progress that the Iraqi people haven't seen.
Make no mistake, the occupation is a bigger disaster for Iraqis, for our troops, and for our safety each year and each month that passes. We're dropping five times the bombs this year as last year, including 30 tons of cluster bombs in the first six months of 2007. If Bush and Cheney had unlimited troops, they would send another half million to Iraq. And the Iraqi people would still not be pacified. Bush is bringing a minimal number of troops home for only one reason. He has to. He has no more troops to send. This is not a victory for Petraeus or for Congress. This is a victory for the counter-recruitment movement. If you want to make a difference, go to schools and tell kids the truth about military service. Get a book called "Army of None."
Nothing in Iraq is getting better, and nothing is about to get better. Petraeus is arming one religious sect to kill another and measuring success by body counts. Every body he counts is 10 friends and relatives eager to kill the occupiers. This is not a war that can be won or lost. It is an occupation and a crime, and we must stop committing it! According to Republicans in Congress the real danger lies in people who would dare question the authority of a general. I set up a website called BetrayUsReport.com, so I must be part of the real problem. But then so must Petraeus's boss, Admiral Fallon, who calls him (and you'll have to excuse me, but these are his words), "an ass kissing little chicken shit."
Somehow the Bush White House seems to attract an unfair share of ass kissing little chicken shits. I watched Bush's speech the other night on ABC, in which Bush admitted, as his report yesterday effectively admitted, that none of the so-called benchmarks had been met. Senator Reed gave a good but vague and non-committal Democratic response. And then George Stephanopoulos of ABC, something of an ass-kissing little chicken shit himself, came on and immediately explained what it all meant. He didn't remind anyone of all the promises Bush had made back in January. Instead he announced that the Democrats can talk about ending the so-called war but cannot do anything about it because they don't have 67 Democrats in the Senate.
Let's get one thing straight: that is a lie. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can announce tomorrow and could have announced nine months, several hundred troops, and tens of thousands of Iraqis ago, that they will not bring up any more bills to fund the occupation. A Republican proposal to fund the occupation could be blocked by 41, not 67, Senators. The Democrats could also pass bills ending the occupation or funding only the withdrawal and have them vetoed and pass them again and again. This is no secret and there is no dispute that Congress has this power. Senator Feingold held hearings at the start of the year at which experts overwhelmingly agreed that Congress can simply stop providing funding. Bush has plenty of money to bring the troops home, and Congress can provide new money for that purpose.
Congress can provide funds for the reconstruction of Iraq by Iraqis. Congress can encourage the United Nations and the Arab League to organize transition efforts. Congress can ban the use of any funds for an attack on Iran. It's only a question of will.
There's no question of where the public stands. Democrats.com which I work for commissioned a polling company this week to ask the public what it wanted.
Forty percent said they wanted all troops home in 6 months, using existing fund to do it.
Another 14 percent want them home in 6 months and will pay $50 billion to make it happen.
Another 19 percent want them home in a year and will pay $200 billion for it.
And 13 percent want what Congress is considering doing, giving Bush another $200 billion with no strings attached.
Seventy-nine Congress members, including only two Floridians, Corrine Brown and Alcee Hastings, have signed a letter saying they won't vote for more money unless it "redeploys" the troops by January 2009. This effort is led by Progressive Caucus chairs Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey. Woolsey is getting a lot of heat in DC right now because someone published the transcript of a private conference call on which she advocated pushing primary challenges to pro-war Democrats. But Lynn is not only right morally. Hers is a pro-Democratic Party position. Primaries are good for a party as well as a country. And the leadership of the Democratic Party is in very bad shape right now. They have made clear that their goal is to keep the occupation of Iraq and Bush and Cheney around until November 2008, believing that will help them win elections. Rahm Emanuel has told the Washington Post this, and Congressional staffers tell me this frequently. And the occupation and impeachment fit together, not just because there are so many impeachable offenses related to the occupation, but also because trying to end the occupation would lead to impeachment.
Congressman Brad Sherman asked Petraeus what he would do if Congress ended the occupation but Bush illegally kept it going. Petraeus said he'd have to ask his lawyer. But Sherman was right to assume that Bush will not end the occupation as long as impeachment is off the table, which is one more reason the Democrats will avoid a serious effort to end the occupation unless we force them to act. The thinking on the Hill right now is that if enough Democrats sign that letter and stand firm, Pelosi will go with a bill to please Republicans and win their votes. Pelosi operates in accordance with George Stephanopoulos's myth that she simply must pass a bill, any bill. In fact, when you get away from the topic of war, on every other issue this Congress can address, the consensus among Democrats is that they have two choices. One is to pass atrocities like the Protect America Act, which Bush will sign. That was the bill that erased the fourth amendment and legalized unconstitutional spying. When they get around to the "Love, Harmony, and Joy" Act, you can be sure we're all about to be killed.
The second option, as they see it, is to pass bills and have them vetoed. Of course they know in advance that it's all theater, that their bills are destined to be vetoed, but they view their whole job as an election campaign, and they don't think the public will catch on to what they're doing.
I think there's a third option. Impeach Bush and Cheney, remove them from office, and then pass bills that mean something.
With Bush and Cheney in office, even bills that are signed into law are altered or reversed with signing statements. And these are not just empty statements. The Government Accountability Office studied a sample of Bush's signing statements and found that in 30 percent of them, his administration has proceeded to violate the laws that he announced he had the right to violate. So, while I applaud groups like the ACLU again and again pushing to redundantly recriminalize torture, I long for the ACLU of 1973 that had the decency to stand for impeachment.
Depicting Pelosi and Reid as sheep in ads is all very good, but not if we're sheep too, not if we go along with the removal of impeachment from the Constitution which leaves Congress with nothing to be other than sheep.
The purpose of impeachment is not just to take back control of our government, not just to end an occupation, not just to prevent an attack on Iran. The purpose of impeachment is to inform future presidents that they must obey laws. But this is not something that concerns many Congress members. Their chief concern tends to be whether the next president will belong to their party.
Twenty Congress members have signed onto H Res 333, Dennis Kucinich's bill to impeach Cheney. Many more signed onto the Gonzales bill or signed on during the last Congress to the Conyers bill for a preliminary impeachment investigation. And others have said publicly or privately that they favor impeachment. But these members have not signed onto Kucinich's bill on Cheney and have not introduced their own on Cheney or Bush. I've spoken to a lot of them and their staff and to constituents who've spoken to them. They have about 15 excuses, most of which are very easily rejected, a few of which it is going to be very hard but not impossible for us to get around.
Excuse #1: You can't judge articles of impeachment prior to a committee investigation. That gets the process out of order:
This is a complaint with Kucinich's bill, which lays out three specific charges against Cheney. Inslee's bill on Gonzales got around this by simply proposing that the Judiciary Committee investigate whether Gonzales had committed impeachable offenses. A new bill could do the same for Bush and Cheney and would not have to be wholly devoid of content. It could suggest the area or areas of inquiry.
Excuse #2. We don't have all the facts we need in order to impeach.
Well, of course that's what an impeachment investigation is for. But in fact we do have the facts. The Judiciary Committee passed an article of impeachment against Nixon for refusing to comply with subpoenas. Bush and Cheney and Rice have indisputably refused to comply with subpoenas. That one is an instant impeachment. Just add backbone. The signing statements is another instant impeachment. So is Bush's confessed violation of FISA, although it is complicated politically by Congress's recent legalization of this crime. Bush is on videotape being warned about Hurricane Katrina and on videotape claiming he wasn't. He and Cheney are on videotape lying about the reasons for war, and the evidence that they knew they were lying is overwhelming. That is the impeachable offense our founding fathers most worried about. James Madison and George Mason both argued as well at the Constitutional Convention that impeachment would be needed if a president ever pardoned a crime that he himself was involved in. The commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence (another notable ass-kissing little chicken shit) is another obvious impeachment. The list is endless. Congressman Conyers has published a lengthy book documenting many of the felonies and abuses of power.
Excuse #3: Impeachment would take too long.
Nixon took 3 months. Clinton took 2. They've spent 9 thus far avoiding it, and with very little to show for it. Impeachment for refusal to comply with subpoenas would take one day.
Excuse #4: Impeachment would distract from other things.
Yeah? Like what? Since when is restoring the Bill of Rights a distraction? A distraction from funding wars and legalizing spying is fine with me. A distraction from passing bills that will be vetoed does not worry me.
Excuse #5: We need to focus on ending the war.
OK, but if you focus on ending the war for two full years and don't actually end it, I wish you luck getting people to turn out next November. When Congress moved toward impeachment of Nixon, it found the nerve to end a war, and he backed off on his veto threats. Congress passed a menu of progressive legislation in part because of, not despite, the impeachment threat hanging over Nixon. And ultimately of course impeachment is going to be needed to end the current occupation of Iraq.
Excuse #6: Impeachment would be divisive.
Actually that's not true among Democrats. Eighty percent favor impeachment. But as far as bipartisan harmony on Capitol Hill goes, the dangers of creating divisiveness is sort of like the danger of violence breaking out if we leave Iraq. It's too late already! And it's too late because the Republicans never give a damn for bipartisan harmony. Were they in the majority with a Democratic president holding the all-time record for unpopularity, they would long ago have impeached him and forced every Democratic Congress member to either defend him or run away from their own party. Does anybody remember Al Gore picking Joe Lieberman as a running mate and pretending he'd never met Bill Clinton? That was the result of an impeachment without a Senate conviction. (John Nichols says: impeachment is not a constitutional crisis. It's the cure for the one we're in. Aspirin is not a headache crisis. Impeachment is not a constitutional crisis.)
Excuse #7: We don't have the votes in the House to impeach.
Well, you would if Pelosi whipped on it. And Congress members back bills all the time that are not predicted to pass. If their colleagues fail to join them, that's between their colleagues and their colleagues' constituents. And again, impeachment usually does its work without getting all the way to impeachment. A move to impeach for refusal to comply with subpoenas, for example, might result in compliance with subpoenas. And it is the only thing that might. Holding people in contempt through the courts will take forever and probably fail. Inherent contempt is a tool Congress doesn't have the backbone for. And Congress is not about to use either type of contempt against Bush or Cheney.
Excuse #8: We don't have the votes in the Senate to convict.
Well, you might if you put the crimes on television and if the house impeached. But you would do good for the nation and Democrats would do good for their party even with a Senate acquittal. Nothing would better identify for the public the Senators who need to be thrown out of office. And impeachment even without conviction would reverse the public perception of Democrats as having no spine. They may hold even in the next election without impeaching anyone or getting us out of Iraq, but if they want to win new seats, and if they want to win the White House with a large enough margin to not have the election stolen, they will reverse their current position and act!
Excuse #9: I won't sign onto Kucinich's bill because he hasn't asked me to, and he's a liberal, and he's running for president.
Well, yes, dear Congressman or Congresswoman, but this is the government of the world's largest and most powerful empire. This isn't high school. We expect you to sign onto a bill based on the merits of it, or to introduce your own.
Excuse #10: You can't impeach over policy differences because you don't like war. You have to impeach for a crime.
Well, Kucinich's bill charges Cheney with the felony that involves misleading Congress and with the crime of threatening war on Iran. Cheney is on videotape doing so. Conyers' book lists lots of felonies. But in fact, not every crime is an impeachable offense and not every impeachable offense is a crime. When Nixon cheated on his taxes or Clinton cheated on his wife and lied about it under oath, no impeachable offenses were committed. When Nixon lied to the public or when Bush ignored warnings prior to 9/11, no crimes were committed, but the offenses were impeachable.
Excuse #11: If I backed impeachment, the media would be mean to me.
Yes, Congressman; Yes, Congresswoman. And if you don't people will die. Which is worse? A majority backs impeachment now for Cheney and a majority or close to it for Bush. Those numbers will go up, not down, if you act, regardless of what the media says. You know those 18 percent of Americans who approve of the job you're doing? Even they don't like the media. No campaign email raises more money than one that begins, "Fox News just attacked me."
That's 11 excuses so far. I think those 11 can be refuted. The next four are harder to get around.
Excuse #12: Impeachment would make Bush and Cheney sympathetic and rally people around them.
The idea of making Cheney in particular an object of sympathy may seem ludicrous. But then so did the idea that Saddam Hussein was about to attack us with unmanned aerial vehicles. Common sense is not enough in Washington. We need hard numbers. I think Congress should start with Cheney and watch as Republicans are forced to abandon him. The Republicans would have done this to the Democrats years ago. The idea that impeachment would help Bush and Cheney originated in Republican National Committee talking points published in May 2006. Pelosi immediately adopted the idea as her own. It flies in the face of the historical record. When the Republicans have moved impeachment, as against Truman for example, they've benefited at the polls. When the Democrats tried to impeach Nixon, who was popular compared to Cheney or Bush, they won huge victories. When they promised not to impeach Reagan, they lost in the next elections. The exceptional case is the Clinton impeachment which was uniquely unpopular. Nonetheless, the Republicans hung onto both houses of Congress and the White House. In fact, they lost very few seats, fewer than is the norm at that point in the tenure of a majority in Congress. The Democrats may be risking more by not impeaching than they would be by doing it. But unless we can get polls done in swing districts that show overwhelmingly that the Democrats will lose seats by not impeaching, they are unlikely to act. This is what their staffers tell me. And polls showing they'd gain seats by impeaching may not be enough, if they think they'd do OK without it. And we'll have to show that Republicans save their seats by backing impeachment if we want any Republicans to act. Of course this is all utterly disgusting. Human life and the future of democracy are not concerns that even come up. It's all about elections.
Excuse #13: Impeachment would remind people of Bill Clinton.
Well, would that be so horrible? I was no fan of Bill Clinton, but compared to Bush and Cheney he looks like a saint.
Excuse #14: Nancy Pelosi opposes impeachment.
Excuse #15: Hillary Clinton opposes impeachment.
The way we bring them around is to show that the Democrats have a better chance at the White House as the party with backbone and integrity than as the party that just isn't the Republicans.
So, what can we do?
Raise your hand if to get rid of Bush you'd do for him what Monica did for Bill.
Nine patriotic Americans! Thank you!
OK. May not be needed. There's a saying that goes like this: let's save our pessimism for better times.
We cannot afford the luxury of pessimism. While there are things Congress refuses to even consider, like ending the occupation or impeaching Cheney or Bush, there are also things that we as citizens have a responsibility to consider but rarely do. We can shut down our Congress members' offices with endless repeated sit-ins. We can make it impossible for them to work. That changes the whole calculation. We can shut down the city of Washington. The next big march is on the 29th, following a camp in front of the Capitol from the 22nd to the 29th. If we bring a million people and on the 29th refuse to leave, if we block the streets and fill the jails, all bets and probably all wars are off.
Whether we can manage such feats or not, if we keep building and pushing an impeachment movement, not only do we communicate to the world our good intentions, but we are prepared should some new event help trigger a pulse in the corpse of Congress. And let us hope that event is not an attack on Iran.
We can also organize in and do polling in swing districts to try to show the electoral advantage to be gained from doing the right thing.
We can also keep pressuring key Congress members like Congressman Wexler and Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz. We can do this through local media activism, PR, letters to editors, calls to shows, through visits, phone calls, emails, faxes, letters, post cards, posters, billboards, through honk-to-impeach events where you hold posters saying "Honk to Impeach" at the side of the street outside their offices, and through events where we sit in and read the Constitution aloud, refusing to leave.
We can also take our demands directly to the people Congress listens to: the media. The fact is that if we had had Fox News and if the other outlets had been in 1974 what they are now, Nixon would never have resigned. Today, the media do not cover the crimes, the evidence, or the public outrage, and do not poll the public's opinions on impeachment. We forced the Downing Street minutes into the news two-and-a-half years ago by flooding the media with phone calls, emails, and protests in their lobbies. That needs to continue.
Taking the all-consuming focus off the elections that are over a year away would give us a healthier democracy, but we also need to think in terms of electoral threats, or we are taking our power off the table the same way Congress has. We should promote primary challengers who use the issue of impeachment. We should promote third party general election challengers who use the issue of impeachment. Many are already doing so. To refuse to make these challenges is to fail to grasp the gravity of our situation. In terms of the presidential race, there is something we've not considered. If every person who likes Dennis Kucinich but believes he can't win were to send him $100, he would win quite easily and influence Congress immediately.
Be the change you want to see in the world.
No sleep till impeachment.
* photos by Alan Kobrin