Gonzales, Pelosi, and the Survival of Congress
August 1, 2007
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that if she were not Speaker she would probably back impeachment. Other Congress Members are of course free to do what even she admits she would do in their position. They should, I think, start taking her advice and ignoring her ban on impeachment.
The reason Pelosi is being questioned about impeachment has to do with Gonzo, Alberto Gonzales, and a proposal just introduced to impeach him. In the movement to impeach Cheney and Bush, is this a distraction or an opening act?
Fifteen principled members of Congress, all Democrats, have signed a bill to begin the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. Hundreds of other Congress Members have stubbornly refused to heed the clear demand of the majority of their constituents.
But suddenly a completely new group of Congress Members, again all Democrats, has announced support for impeaching Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. This groups includes Congress Members who are not usually leaders in the cause of justice. And it includes Members who have been lobbied intensely to impeach Cheney and Bush but who have resisted in favor of heeding Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ban on using the Constitution in Congress.
The initial sponsor is Jay Inslee of Washington State who less than six months ago had to lobby the leadership of his state’s legislature not to permit a vote on a pro-impeachment resolution. One of the initial cosponsors is Tom Udall of New Mexico, whose state legislature also came close to passing such a resolution. There were rumors in New Mexico that — as in Washington State — pressure against the resolution had come from DC.
Other cosponsors are Xavier Becera, Michael Arcuri, Ben Chandler, Dennis Moore, Bruce Braley, Earl Blumenauer, and Peter DeFazio. From this list of names it should be clear that this is not a statement against illegal war. This is not a declaration of progressive principles in opposition to illegal spying, detentions, torture, and murder, much less the plundering of the poor to enrich a corporate oligarchy. Rather, this is statement at long last of a minimal willingness to defend the rule of law and the power of Congress. These House Members did not raise impeachment when Gonzales backed illegal spying, torture, and detentions, or when it first became clear that he had used the Justice Department as a wing of the Republican National Committee. They spoke up after Gonzales repeatedly lied to Congress and refused to answer Senators’ questions.
Of course, there may be a confluence of influences behind this decision. Two forces are pushing impeachment forward. One is American citizens, who have recently become much more aggressive, sitting in Congressional offices, and standing in front of them with Honk-to-Impeach signs that have a tendency to disrupt entire days of work. The other is the Bush-Cheney administration, which has in recent weeks refused to comply with subpoenas, announced that it will refuse to cooperate with contempt citations, and of course commuted the sentence of a top staffer convicted of obstructing justice.
Now, merely impeaching Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would fall as short of what’s needed as merely convicting I. Lewis Scooter Libby. Both men are covering up the crimes of Cheney and Bush. But impeaching Gonzo and sending him packing might just open the door to impeachment, might in fact restore impeachment in many people’s minds to a place of honor (rather than sex scandal) in our system of checks and balances. If the Democratic leadership allows Gonzales to be impeached, or is forced to see it happen, we may jump a big step closer to impeaching Cheney, whether Nancy Pelosi intended that to be the result or not. Timing in this will be a factor. If Congress takes all of August off and then drags Gonzales’ impeachment out for weeks, the clock may tick too far ahead. Our job is to speed them along. Another factor may be Senate conviction or acquittal. Our job is to push for Senate conviction while praising the House already for impeachment and demanding that Cheney’s impeachment get underway.
Inslee’s resolution is short and sweet, but a blank slate that opens itself up to any tangential time-wasting investigation imaginable. And there are the usual two problems with investigations: they’re not needed and they can’t pry anything out of the Bush-Cheney administration. After all, that’s why we’re impeaching Gonzales: for refusing to answer questions and lying. Inslee’s bill reads as follows:
Directing the Committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.
1 Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary shall
2 investigate fully whether sufficient grounds exist for the
3 House of Representatives to impeach Alberto R. Gonzales,
4 Attorney General of the United States, for high crimes
5 and misdemeanors.
We have a petition to Congress people can sign at Democrats.com and AfterDowningStreet.org that lists several of Gonzo’s crimes. One relates to torture.
On 1/25/02, Gonzales wrote a memo to President Bush authorizing the commission of war crimes by claiming the war against terrorism “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”
On 8/1/02, Gonzales commissioned a memo to President Bush which defined “torture” only as an interrogation that causes “injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions.” This definition is contrary to The War Crimes Act and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Unusual or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty ratified by the United States. Although this memo was retracted on 12/30/04, it remained in effect for over two years and authorized an unknown number of acts of torture.
Gonzales knew or should have known that, pursuant to memoranda written by, commissioned or concurred in by him, prisoners in United States custody would be subjected to willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment; and great suffering or serious injury to body or health, in violation of The War Crimes Act.
COUNT II involves Military Commissions
Between 9/11/01 and 11/13/01, Gonzales helped draft the Military Order establishing the Military Commissions, signed by President Bush on 11/13/01. This order mandated conduct by members of United States military forces which constitute war crimes under The War Crimes Act.
Gonzales knew or should have known that the Military Commissions, in whose creation he participated, would deprive prisoners in United States custody who will be tried before them, of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in the Third Geneva Convention and Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions.
On 1/18/07 Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the U.S. Constitution does not provide the right to habeas corpus, but rather only bars the government from taking that right away (except in the case of rebellion or invasion). This logic would overturn many of the rights that U.S. law has based on the Constitution for over two centuries, as well as overturning rights positively expressed in the Sixth Amendment.
COUNT III relates to Illegal Domestic Surveillance
Since the inception (date unknown) of the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretap program, Gonzales has defined, condoned, concealed and defended the administration’s continued violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution.
On 2/6/06, Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force enacted by Congress on 9/18/01 authorized warrantless domestic surveillance. However, the secret programs may have been launched earlier, the AUMF did not grant the President the right to violate FISA and the Fourth Amendment, and Congress has since amended FISA four times without granting the President those rights. On 1/17/07, Gonzales informed Congress the illegal wiretapping was approved by an unnamed Judge of the FISA Court without providing any evidence that illegal acts had actually ended. On 7/24/07, Gonzales informed Congress there was more than one secret program.
COUNT IV: Corrupting the Department of Justice
Investigations by the Senate and House Judiciary Committees in 2007 established a pattern of firing U.S. Attorneys who failed to implement the corrupt plans of the White House to steal elections through highly-publicized prosecutions of non-existent voter fraud. At the same time, U.S. Attorneys who filed such prosecutions kept their jobs.
COUNT V: Perjury
In multiple appearances before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees in 2006 and 2007, Gonzales deliberately misled Congress about the firing of U.S. Attorneys and the warrantless wiretapping program.
My advice to the House Judiciary Committee is this: Stick to perjury — just do it and do it quickly. Include other counts if you can do so quickly. Your goal is to impeach efficiently and move on to your important business of… well, whatever that important business is you’re always talking about. Your goal is not to drag Gonzo’s crimes in front of us for months. We are painfully aware of them. That’s why we’ve finally been able to force you to take a stand. Please don’t imagine that you are going to discover new evidence or that Gonzales is going to squeal on his bosses, or that we need any evidence we don’t already have in order to subsequently impeach and convict them. But, and this is important too, if you impeach Gonzales only for perjury, please take steps to make clear to the public that perjury is not somehow a uniquely impeachable offense — just because Clinton and Gonzales were both impeached for it. An impeachable offense is treason, bribery, or any other high crime and misdemeanor.
Could this all be a distraction? Maybe, but I think it’s a lot less dangerous in that regard than Censure of Cheney or Bush. This is the right tool: impeachment. It’s just not yet addressed to the right people. If we impeach Gonzales, we can and logically must then impeach the men for whom he committed his impeachable offenses. But there is no time to waste.
And there is no time for a month-long vacation.
The people of Iraq cannot expect any summer vacation. Nor can the U.S. troops occupying their country. Nor can the people of New Orleans STILL without homes.
August should be a time for Congress to reclaim some measure of respect from the American people by accomplishing something that cannot be vetoed or signing statemented: the impeachment of the Attorney General and as soon as possible the Vice President.
A group of 9-11 widows recently sent a letter to Congress that read, in part:
“Watching Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testify before Congress on July 24, 2007, for the third time, was excruciatingly painful. During Gonzales’ testimony, it became abundantly clear that Americans were witnessing the unraveling of the fabric of America. We do not feel that this is an overstatement. The Attorney General, a man who supposedly personifies America’s rule of law, obfuscated, committed perjury, and belittled the very institution, the Congress, which makes America a great Democracy. Over and over, we publicly witnessed Gonzales’ refusal to answer the questions posed by you — a Committee authorized to conduct oversight duties. You were made to look frustrated and foolish as your attempts at Executive Branch oversight were thwarted by the bizarre, circular non-answers of Attorney General Gonzales. For the third time, you were unable to penetrate his stonewalling. We want to know, is it not a crime to mislead and outright lie to the Congress? How many more opportunities will you give Attorney General Gonzales to make a farce of our system by denying Congress information that would allow you to do your job and properly perform your oversight role?
“….it appears that you are becoming unwittingly complicit in your own undoing. It is evident that what we are watching is the U.S. Congress in the process of making itself irrelevant. When the Executive Branch alone is allowed to act without any oversight, or any accountability, then what we will become is a dictatorship. And once all Americans realize that Congress is unable to perform any oversight, whether it is due to lack of will or complicity, you will no longer be needed. Once it becomes apparent that the Executive Branch is not only making the laws but also deciding which laws to follow, the Congress will be just a quaint, unnecessary and useless artifact.”
I couldn’t have said it better, so I’ll leave it at that.
David Swanson is a co-founder of After Downing Street, a writer and activist, and the Washington Director of Democrats.com. He is a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, and serves on the Executive Council of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, TNG-CWA.
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