Hold Bush/Cheney Accountable on Constitution Day
By Stephen Rohde and Peter Thottam
Monday 17 September 2007
On this day 220 years ago, thirty-nine delegates in Philadelphia approved the United States Constitution. In honor of that historic event, September 17 has been designated Constitution Day.
Auspicious celebrations are planned around the country. President Bush will likely extol the wisdom of the founding fathers and the genius of the Constitution. But James Madison warned that the Constitution would be but a mere “paper barrier” to tyranny unless the people saw to it that its limitations on the exercise of excessive power by the government were enforced.
To that end, Madison and his colleagues included the powerful remedy of Impeachment, using the term no less than six times. In Article II, Section 4, they provided that “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Today, as we celebrate Constitution Day, many Americans are asking whether President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have committed “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” justifying their impeachment and removal from office.
Have Bush and Cheney abused their powers of office by using information they knew to be false as justification for the US invasion of Iraq; condoning and authorizing the torture of prisoners of war and rendering detainees to foreign countries known to torture; maintaining secret prisons and other detention facilities in violation of the Geneva Conventions; authorizing warrantless wiretaps on US citizens; disclosing the name of an undercover CIA operative contrary to law in retaliation for her husband’s opposition to the Iraq war; and suspending and denying the historic Writ of Habeas Corpus by ordering the indefinite detention of so-called “enemy combatants” without charge and without access to legal counsel?
In the history of the United States, two presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. The Senate later acquitted them. A third president, Richard Nixon, resigned to avoid impeachment by the House. No president has (yet) been removed from office.
Removing an official from office requires two steps: a formal accusation, or impeachment, approved by a simple majority in the House of Representatives, and a trial and conviction by two-thirds in the Senate. Nothing in the Constitution prevents a president and vice president from being impeached and removed from office in the same proceeding, in which case the speaker of the House would become president.
In 1974, Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan gripped the country during the Nixon impeachment hearings when she declared, “My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”
Today, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, who voted to impeach Nixon as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, publicly supports the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. “President Bush has committed a great many grave and dangerous offenses, and subverted the Constitution. The evidence is clear and strong. Congress cannot shirk its responsibility to protect the nation from tyranny.”
Last April, a group of prominent Americans gathered at the US Capitol to speak in support of beginning impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney. Among them were Mayors Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Mayor John Shields of Nyack, New York; state legislators including Washington State Senator Eric Oemig; city council members, including Dave Meserve of Arcata, California; and former government officials, including Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers; David MacMichael, a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency and a member of the steering committee of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity; and retired Army Colonel Ann Wright, a career diplomat who quit in protest the day the war began. Also participating were authors, journalists, poets and playwrights, including Chris Hedges, Justin Frank, Mark Kurlansky, John Nichols, David Lindorff, Gerald Stern and Ann Marie Macari; actors, producers and photographers, including Eunice Wong and Kathy Chalfant, and leading antiwar voices, including Andy Shallal, Cindy Sheehan, Tina Richards, Medea Benjamin, Bob Fertik, David Swanson, Debra Sweet, Kevin Zeese, Michael Berg, Carlos Arredondo and Elaine Brower.
Twenty members of the House of Representatives are actively calling for Cheney’s impeachment, with growing Democratic and Republican support. The Vermont Senate adopted an Impeachment Resolution and similar resolutions are pending in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. At least 22 statewide and national political committees and 87 cities and towns around the country have passed resolutions supporting impeachment.
According to Alexander Hamilton, impeachable offenses arose “from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated Political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to society itself.”
As we celebrate Constitution Day, we need to mourn how far our country will have strayed from its founding principles if the people themselves fail to take action to remove from office leaders who have so arrogantly abused their powers, failed to fulfill their duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” and have willfully violated their oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Stephen Rohde is a constitutional lawyer and author of “American Words of Freedom” and “Freedom of Assembly.” Peter Thottam is an attorney and peace activist who works closely with the Green Party and Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles.
Published at truthout.org (http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/091707L.shtml)