GLOBE AND MAIL
By Paul Koring
WASHINGTON -- The emotive and charged word "impeachment" was voiced yesterday on Capitol Hill as a clutch of Democratic congressmen, backed by distraught mothers of soldiers slain in Iraq, put together a piece of theatre that could become the summer's political drama.
John Bonifaz, a self-styled constitutional lawyer and anti-war activist, suggested there are sufficient grounds to launch an inquiry into whether the President should be impeached for lying to Congress about the justification for the war.
"The United States House of Representatives has a constitutional duty to investigate fully and comprehensively the evidence revealed by the Downing Street minutes and other related evidence, and to determine whether there are sufficient grounds to impeach George W. Bush, the President of the United States," Mr. Bonifaz said.
Cindy Sheehan, mother of a soldier killed in Iraq and founder of the Gold Star Families for Peace, accused Mr. Bush of waging a "needless, senseless" war and "betraying" servicemen like her son, Casey, killed in action in Baghdad in April of 2004.
"I believed before our leaders invaded Iraq in March, 2003, and I am even more convinced now that this aggression on Iraq was based on a lie of historic proportions, and was blatantly unnecessary," Mrs. Sheehan said.
"The so-called Downing Street memo, dated 23 July, 2002, only confirms what I always suspected: The leadership of this country rushed us into an illegal invasion of another sovereign country on prefabricated and cherry-picked intelligence."
The memo, written by an aide to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, summarizes the view of a senior British intelligence officer who just returned from Washington. "The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," the memo says. The document is regarded by some as the "smoking gun" that proves the Bush administration bent the facts to justify the war.
Both Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush have flatly denied that accusation, and rejected that interpretation of the memo.
So far, neither the memo, nor the anti-war movement has generated a groundswell of opposition to Mr. Bush, although the latest polls show his approval levels sagging.
In yesterday's meeting, Michigan Democrat John Conyers presided over an elaborate and effective media event that focused attention on the still-unexplained discrepancies between Mr. Bush's public pronouncements in the months before the Iraq war and documents suggesting he had made up his mind to go to war long before.
Not since the impeachment blotted out all else in former president Bill Clinton's second term, has the term been bandied about on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Conyers's pseudo-hearing yesterday was a bit of a sham. The majority Republicans rejected his call for formal hearings into the Downing Street memo. Still, with more than a dozen of his fellow Democrats crammed into a small, flag-bedecked room, an effort was made to give the meeting the appearance of a hearing. In spite of the cameras and microphones and congressional niceties, it was, in fact, devoid of legality and had no powers of subpoena.
But the political stakes remain high for the President.
So far, no groundswell of opposition to the war, or doubts about the reasons that led to it, has seriously shaken his presidency. Even the stunning absence of any concealed weapons of mass destruction has failed to produce the kind of anti-war momentum that forced the United States to quit Vietnam more than 30 years ago.
Yesterday, the White House dismissed Mr. Conyers's "hearing" as a stunt of no importance. "This is simply rehashing old debates that have already been discussed," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
But just like the sex scandal that besmirched Mr. Clinton's presidency and resulted in his impeachment, and the Watergate break-in that doomed Mr. Nixon, some on Capitol Hill believe an obscure British memo could be the spark that ignites the kind of anti-Bush wildfire that the Democrats failed to produce in last year's election.
"It reminds me of the little blurb that appeared in the paper that said there was a break-in at the Watergate," said another mother of a slain U.S. soldier.
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