"It is the business of the Congress to prevent the president from doing more damage than he's already done to the people, interests, health, well-being, safety, good name and reputation of the United States -- to cauterize the wound and stem the flows of money, stupidity and blood." -- Lewis Lapham, March 2006, quoted by David Corn
It is a sobering decision for the American citizenry to consider impeaching a sitting president. It bespeaks of crimes committed by a president that cannot be addressed in any lesser manner, and represents a frightening watershed moment in our history. It is not a decision to be regarded lightly.
Americans who love their freedom and their democratic way of life face such a decision today. We have placed in office a man who has repeatedly demonstrated his contempt for American democracy and the rule of law under the Constitution. While some of this president's decisions have been subject to intense debate over their legality, we have now learned that this president has indisputably broken the law in such a manner that makes impeachment a necessity.
George W. Bush has authorized illegal wiretaps on innocent American citizens, a flagrant and felonious violation of the Constitution and of his presidential powers. Until now, he and his officials have defended this action as one necessitated by the September 11 bombings and the war on terrorism. But now, newly released documents from the National Security Agency, and research by journalist James Risen in his book State of War, prove that Bush authorized such wiretaps long before the 9/11 bombings, and that many of those wiretaps were performed against individuals never charged with any criminal activity and have no connections to any domestic or foreign terrorist groups. Bush committed a felony when he authorized those wiretaps. He lied when he told us that he authorized the wiretaps in 2002, and not in early 2001. He lied when he told Congress he had not authorized such wiretaps. He lied when he said that the wiretaps were prompted by terrorism. He lied when he told us that such wiretaps were legal under the law. He lied when he told us that the wiretaps were necessitated by legal hurdles under the FISA laws. He continues to lie to this day.
We recently watched Congress impeach a previous president for lying under oath about actions which were arguably immoral but not illegal in and of themselves. Perhaps that impeachment was justified. Now we have a president who has committed a series of indefensible felonies under Constitutional law, and who continues to lie about those crimes.
Impeachment is no longer a subject for debate. It is a necessity if this country is to continue being ruled by law and not by executive fiat. The only reason not to impeach Bush is if we decide that he, as president, is not answerable to the law. In that case, we must conclude that we no longer live in a democracy, but under a dictatorship. We must also conclude that the Constitution no longer has any force of law, and the only law is that which emanates from the White House, and can be changed or ignored by our elected officials as they see fit.
This is not a matter of partisan politics, Democrat or Republican, left or right, liberal or conservative. It is a matter of democracy or dictatorship. If we are Americans, if we celebrate our status as the most free and democratic society on the globe, then we must enforce our laws on all of our citizens. We must impeach this president. -- Max Black
Many Reasons For Impeachment:
All members of the Administration, Congress and the Military swear an oath to "defend the Constitution of the United States."
By intentionally misleading Congress and the public regarding the threat from Iraq in order to justify a war in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 371; and
By admitting to order the National Security Agency to conduct electronic surveillance of American civilians without seeking warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, duly constituted by Congress in 1978, in violation of Title 50 United States Code, Section 1805; and
By conspiring to commit the torture of prisoners in violation of the "Federal Torture Act" (Title 18 United States Code, Section 113C), the UN Torture Convention, and the Geneva Convention, which under Article VI of the Constitution are part of the "Supreme Law of the Land;" and
By stripping American citizens of their Constitutional rights by ordering indefinite detention without access to legal counsel, without charge, and without the opportunity to appear before a civil judicial officer to challenge the detention, based solely on the discretionary designation by the President of a U.S. citizen as an "enemy combatant," all in subversion of law:
Members of the Bush Administration have violated their Oaths of Office. Congress members are bound by these oaths to initiate impeachment in defense of the Constitution. -- The Backbone Campaign
"[T]he spying upon Americans without probable cause, due process and a warrant supported by evidence and sworn before a competent magistrate violates the 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution. It is essential to the argument to understand that the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights does not create the rights of citizens, but places our government in the position of guaranteeing these inherent and inalienable rights. Infringing upon these rights in any manner is unlawful, unconstitutional, immoral and evil. ...Violation of our Constitution is treason. It is so not only in principle, but also by the words of the oath taken by each officer of the government, military and high office. The oath of office includes specific regard for defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic. Once again, George W. Bush has violated that oath, violated the Constitution, violated federal laws, and made himself an enemy of freedom and civil rights. Mr. Bush should resign in shame and disgrace. In the alternative, our House of Representatives should bring about an immediate impeachment proceeding, and the Senate should convict. Should Mr. Bush not resign, and should Congress fail to impeach and convict, then we should rise up against such abuses even to the point of militant overthrow of the current administration." -- Jeff Rense
"When a movement tries to force an alien agenda on a democratic nation, it must devote itself full-time to that endeavor. The subversion of electoral democracy must be the movement's overriding goal, because it's very difficult to disenfranchise a majority. It takes vast planning and tremendous effort, and a ton of laundered cash. In short, it has to be that movement's main concern; and I believe that it is Bush/Cheney's main concern, and that it is the main concern of the regime's most fervent backers." -- Mark Crispin Miller
Bush Authorized Domestic Spying Before 9/11: Documents from the National Security Agency (available here) show the NSA has been spying on American citizens well before the 9/11 attacks. (Additionally, the Congressional Research Service has concluded independently that Bush committed a crime by authorizing the wiretaps.) Bush has defended the NSA's illegal wiretaps, unauthorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), as prompted by the 9/11 attacks and necessary to defend this nation against terrorism. While many of the unauthorized NSA wiretaps were on Americans suspected of terrorist activities, many of them were specifically carried out against political "enemies" of the administration such as peace activists, human rights organizations, and antiwar protestors. The NSA insists that the unauthorized wiretaps are "consistent with the Fourth Amendment and all applicable laws," but such is not the case. The FISA statutes require that warrants for national security wiretaps be authorized by the secret FISA court. The law says that it is a crime for government officials to conduct electronic surveillance outside the exclusive purviews of that law or the criminal wiretap statute.
Author Ivan Eland writes, "...Bush's authorization of the monitoring of Americans' e-mails and phone calls by the National Security Agency (NSA) without even the minimal protection of FISA court warrants is clearly unconstitutional and illegal. Executive searches without judicial review violate the unique checks and balances that the nation's founders created in the US government and are a considerable threat to American liberty. President Bush defiantly admits initiating such flagrant domestic spying but contends that the Congress implicitly authorized such activities when it approved the use of force against al-Qaeda and that such actions fit within his constitutional powers as commander-in-chief. But the founders never intended core principles of the Constitution to be suspended during wartime. In fact, they realized that it was in times of war and crisis that constitutional protections of the people were most at risk of usurpation by politicians, who purport to defend American freedom while actually undermining it. The Bush administration's FBI has also expanded its use of national security letters to examine the personal records of tens of thousands of Americans who are not suspected of being involved in terrorism or even illegal acts." And on the holiday celebrating the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Al Gore reminds us that part of the reason the FISA laws were passed was the illegal wiretapping of Dr. King by the FBI and other government agencies.
"This warrantless eavesdropping program is not authorized by the PATRIOT Act, it's not authorized by any act of Congress, and it's not overseen by any court. According to the reports it's being conducted under a secret presidential order, based on secret legal opinions by the same Justice Department, lawyers, the same ones who argued secretly that the President could order the use of torture. Mr. President, it is time to have some checks and balances in this country. We are a democracy. We are a democracy. Let's have checks and balances, not secret orders and secret courts and secret torture, and on and on." -- Senator Patrick Leahy
FISA does give the president the authority to bypass the FISA court and authorize eavesdropping on his own -- but only if both he and the attorney general can certify that no "United States person" is a party to the surveillance. A "United States person" is defined as any citizen, legal resident alien and various corporate entities. Both have to swear under oath that "there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party...." More importantly, even if they can order the eavesdropping due to a true emergency, they still have to seek a warrant within 72 hours from the FISA court. In all other cases, the definitions contained in the first section of FISA make it mandatory that if a US citizen or legal resident alien is acting as an "agent of a foreign power" within the United States, they must seek a FISA court order prior to beginning such surveillance. Bush and his NSA have repeatedly, and admittedly, refused to adhere to the law in their wiretapping.
Stu Steinberg, a retired public defender, law school educator and capital defense investigator who earned multiple medals for heroism in Vietnam as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist, writes, "George Bush and Alberto Gonzalez know what this law states. They also know that it is stated in plain, simple, everyday language. And Gonzalez presumably knows what the basic rule of statutory interpretation is: you read the words and apply their plain meaning; you do not read anything into them and you only resort to the legislative history when the words are ambiguous. And it could be that Gonzalez is as much an ignoramus as the President...but, I doubt it. He's just another brown-nosing suckup and, based upon the drivel considered to be his legal writings, he might actually believe that in a time of war, the President can suspend the constitution. After all, no less an arbiter than the US Supreme Court approved the presidential concentration camps during WW II, when US citizens were locked up because of their ethnic origins." (Amazingly, White House spokespersons have cited Roosevelt's decision to lock up innocent Japanese-Americans during the war as a precedent for their president's actions.)
The staff of PresstheNews.com has provided us a detailed analysis showing exactly how the NSA wiretaps violate the FISA laws. While I will not repeat the legal arguments here, the analysis shows that Bush and the NSA have not only violated FISA, but the Constitution's most fundamental separation of powers clauses, stated in Article I, Section I. Civil libertarians on both left and right have expressed their outrage at Bush's flagrant flaunting of the law. Robert Levy, of the conservative Cato Institute, testified before Congress, "A settled canon of statutory interpretation directs that specific provisions in a statute supersede general provisions. When FISA forbids 'electronic surveillance without a court order' while the AUMF [Congress's September 2002 Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq] permits 'necessary and appropriate force,' it is bizarre to conclude that electronic surveillance without a court order is authorized." University of Chicago Law professor Richard Epstein says, "I find every bit of this legal argument disingenuous. The president's position is essentially that [Congress] is not doing the right thing, so I'm going to act on my own." Reagan Deputy Attorney General Bruce Fein adds, "The founding fathers would be alarmed by George W. Bush's 'trust me' defense for collecting foreign intelligence in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Constitution's separation of powers." Yale Law School Dean Howard Koh, also in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, calls the program "blatantly illegal." The American Bar Association overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution requesting that the administration cease violating both FISA, and the Constitution. Levy, testifying before the Judiciary Committee, may have put it best: "The executive branch cannot, in the face of an express prohibition by Congress, unilaterally set the rules, execute the rules, and eliminate oversight by the other branches."
The NSA also violated the law by passing on the information it collected on American citizens to any number of federal agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, the DIA, and the Department of Homeland Security. It is also documented that the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, along with state and local law enforcement agencies, spied on many American organizations which had no terrorist ties -- but were avowed opponents of the Bush regime. These groups include Greenpeace, the animal rights group PETA, Catholic Worker, numerous antiwar groups, and even New York bicyclists. (In the 1960s and 1970s, the NSA routinely spied on antiwar and peace activist groups, a practice that led to the creation of the FISA court. Now only FISA can authorize such wiretaps, and only under strict guidelines that preclude spying on American organizations not suspected of terrorist ties.)
"The FISA court -- it's not very difficult to get something through a FISA court. I kinda liken the FISA court to a monkey with a rubber stamp. The monkey sees a name, the monkey sees a word justification with a block of information. It can't read the block, but it just stamps 'affirmed' on the block, and a banana chip rolls out, and then the next paper rolls in front of the monkey. When you have like 20,000 requests and only, I think, four were turned down, you can't look at the FISA court as anything different." -- former NSA officer Russell Tice
An article in the conservative Washington Times's Sunday magazine, Insight, from December 2005 proves even further that not only was the administration wiretapping American citizens who had no connection to terrorists, the wiretaps produced virtually no actionable intelligence against terrorists -- and the administration knew they were useless for that purpose.
First, NSA sources acknowledge that Americans who are believed to have contact with terrorists -- and that has been expanded to include antiwar activists, peace organizations, and hundreds of American citizens whose only "crime" has been to oppose Bush policies -- have had all of their phone communications tapped, not just overseas calls to suspicious foreigners. "Illegal" and "criminal" don't begin to describe these transgressions.
Law enforcement sources who worked on the wiretapping have acknowledged that for four years, the wiretapping took place, with no worthwhile results -- no al-Qaeda terrorists have been located, no plots have been revealed, nothing. Why? NSA officials have known for a long time that the terrorists we monitor have long ago quit using phones and e-mails to communicate because of the threat of wiretapping, instead using human couriers to send information back and forth. Worse, the few al-Qaeda associates in the United States who have been identified -- by other intelligence sources, not by the wiretaps -- cannot be located because of incompetence.
John Aravosis of AmericaBlog writes acidly, "Rush Limbaugh, FOX News, the right-wing blogs, and the rest of the Republican cheerleading team can all huff and puff as much as they want to defend this president for their own partisan political reasons, but his incompetence is putting our lives, and our way of life, at risk more and more each day. And all the Republicans who voted for Bush can play politics all they want in an effort to cover Bush's *ss, but we're talking about our lives here and our future. You voted for this man. Now do something about it."
Even certain adminstration officials were shocked by the practice. Deputy Attorney General James Comey refused to sign off on the continuation of the wiretapping in 2004; Comey was temporarily in charge while then-AG John Ashcroft was in the hospital. Comey's refusal prompted senior aides Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzalez to visit Ashcroft in the hospital and obtain his signature. Reportedly, even Ashcroft, no friend to civil liberties, was unhappy with the continuation. It is unclear whether or not Ashcroft ever signed off on the policy, and it seems evident that the policy was temporarily suspended. Since the original writing of this page, it has proven all too clear that Gonzales is not only willing to authorize such domestic surveillance, but is enthusiastic about its implementation.
Of the wiretapping, former vice president Al Gore said, "As we begin this new year, the Executive Branch of our government has been caught eavesdropping on huge numbers of American citizens and has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress to prevent such abuses. It is imperative that respect for the rule of law be restored."
Aside from the FISA law, there are at least six other federal laws that guarantee limits upon the execution of surveillance, investigation and record keeping by use of communication, telecommunication and records (including dossiers and case files): the Telecommunications Privacy Act of 1984 (TPA), the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), the Privacy Act of 1974, the Wire And Electronic Communications Interception And Interception Of Oral Communications Act, the Wireless Telecommunications Privacy Act of 2000, and the Freedom of Information Act. Bush has broken all or part of these six federal statutes as well. And in spying on innocent Americans without their knowledge or consent, Bush has violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment protections guaranteeing citizens due process under the law.
If the NSA does spy on Americans, it is charged with either blacking out the identities of those individuals or immediately destroying the information it compiled unless the information was relevant to an ongoing terrorist investigation. But, according to people who worked at the NSA as encryption specialists during this time, that didn't happen. Instead, the NSA was ordered by President Bush and Defense Department officials to kept a running list of the names of Americans in its system and make that list readily available to senior officials in the Bush administration. What that means is that the NSA is conducting a covert domestic surveillance operation in violation of the law.
One of the administration's defenses has been to whine that the FISA laws are too restrictive and make it too difficult to get wiretap authority in cases of immediate need. With respect, that is a load of crap. Since 1979, over 15,000 FISA warrants have been granted, with only four -- four! -- ever being denied. In emergency situations, the government can even establish a wiretap and ask for a warrant three days later. Bush simply chose to ignore the FISA court -- and deliberately ignore the law.
Another defense has been the all-too-familiar cry of "Clinton did it first," with Bush asserting in his January 30 State of the Union address, "[P]revious presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have." Aside from the fact that one president's criminal behavior does not justify the acts of a successor, Clinton denies ever having circumvented the FISA courts. Clinton has said his administration either received court approval before authorizing a wiretap or went to court within three days after to get permission, as required by law. "We either went there and asked for the approval or, if there was an emergency and we had to do it beforehand, then we filed within three days afterward and gave them a chance to second guess it," Clinton told ABC's Nightline. "I don't have enough facts to know why there would be some reluctance to go there. I felt that the court and the setup was more than enough to do what we needed to do." When asked if the president should have the authority to order wiretaps without warrants, Clinton said, "I think that's a decision the Supreme Court would have to resolve."
More to the point, investigations of the Clinton-era wiretaps proves that every single one of them -- and there were plenty -- were done within the FISA statutes. They were all legal. A favorite example trotted out by conservative defenders is Clinton's 1993 authorization of a search of the home of Soviet spy Aldrich Ames without a warrant. The Ames case is irrelevant, says legal experts, because the 1978 law was not amended to include physical searches and seizures until 1994. Philip Heymann, a Harvard law professor who was then the deputy US attorney general and helped oversee the Ames investigation, said the Clinton administration began seeking warrants for physical searches as soon as the new law went into effect. "'The bottom line is, I know of no electronic surveillance for intelligence purposes since [the 1978 warrant law] was passed that was not done under the...statute," Heymann said.
Experts have concluded that Bush's assertions of legality are baseless. His contention that past presidents did the same thing as he has done "is either intentionally misleading or downright false," said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor. Only Bush has made the assertion that his wartime powers should supersede an act of Congress, Cole said. Bush's assertion that his program was legal prompted a group of 14 prominent law professors, including both liberals and conservatives, to pen a joint letter objecting to his arguments. Richard Epstein, a University of Chicago law professor and a member of the group, said he believes the Supreme Court would reject Bush's assertions that his wartime powers authorized him to override the law. "'I find every bit of this legal argument disingenuous," Epstein said. "'The president's position is essentially that [Congress] is not doing the right thing, so I'm going to act on my own." Cole said the Bush administration is misstating the courts' rulings on the legality of wiretapping, including its requirement that the Justice Department seek warrants in national security cases. Cole said the case supported the notion that Congress could regulate the president's use of his surveillance powers.
Even his assertion that if the wiretapping program had been in place before the 9/11 attacks -- which it was, see above -- the attacks may have been prevented has been proven to be specious. The 9/11 Commission reported that the hijackers were already under surveillance; that bureaucratic incompetence and infighting, not surveillance failures, were the cause of the hijackers not being brought into custody before the attacks.
Though the administration is currently defiant in asserting the legality of its actions, at some point, it will likely proclaim that it knew nothing of the NSA's "rogue" spying operation. This will be a lie. James Risen, author of the book State of War and the journalist credited with first breaking the story about the NSA's domestic surveillance operations, writes that Bush personally authorized a change in the agency's long-standing policies shortly after he was sworn in in 2001. "The president personally and directly authorized new operations, like the NSA's domestic surveillance program, that almost certainly would never have been approved under normal circumstances and that raised serious legal or political questions," Risen writes. "Because of the fevered climate created throughout the government by the president and his senior advisers, Bush sent signals of what he wanted done, without explicit presidential orders" and "the most ambitious got the message." The records were destroyed some time after 9/11, when NSA lawyers advised their destruction in fear of lawsuits and criminal charges from innocent Americans whose phones and computers were tapped.
(Those who make a career of rushing to Bush's defense will leap on the last sentence to say that Bush never explicitly ordered the wiretaps. That line of reasoning is no more applicable than Johnny the Leg's testimony that Don Giorgio didn't say the actual words, "Kill that loudmouth" before Fredo made the hit. The criminal intent is clear.)
Currently the administration is running a full-bore public relations campaign to "sell" the American people on the legality and necessity of the NSA wiretapping. And, as usual with this administration, while doggedly trying to sell its actions to the public, it is refusing to provide Senate oversight committees with necessary information about the wiretapping in order for its legality, or illegality, to be properly determined. A Senate hearing, held on February 2 by newly installed director of national intelligence John Negroponte, is marked by acrimonious accusations from Senate Democrats over the administration's actions. Democrat Jay Rockefeller said, "I am deeply troubled by what I see as the administration's continued effort to selectively release intelligence information that supports its policy or political agenda while withholding equally pertinent information that does not do that." Fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein accused the administration of engaging in "consistent stonewalling" to prevent the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees from carrying out their oversight duties, and Carl Levin noted that the administration's public accounts of the eavesdropping program were contradictory, saying that Bush had described the agency's interception, without court warrants, of "a few" messages, while Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, had referred to "thousands" of messages. Panel Republicans stood firm in defense of the administration, with chairman Pat Roberts obliquely challenging the patriotism of the president's critics: "I am concerned that some of my Democrat colleagues used this unique public forum to make clear that they believe the gravest threat we face is not Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but rather the president of the United States. There is no doubt in my mind there are marching orders to the minority members of this committee to question and attack, at every opportunity, the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, attorney general and now members of our intelligence agencies."
Negroponte confirmed that the decision to limit briefings on the eavesdropping program to just eight members of Congress -- the leaders of the Senate and House and the heads of the Intelligence Committees from both parties -- had been made by Bush and Cheney. He also denied that the issue at hand was domestic surveillance, rather the focus should be on countering terrorist threats. Roberts assured the panel that they would all be briefed on the wiretapping program by the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez, and deputy director of national intelligence Michael Hayden, in a week's time. Meanwhile, Roberts and other Republicans, including CIA director Porter Goss, attempted to redirect the ire of the committee towards those whistleblowers who told reporters of the illegal wiretapping. Interestingly enough, when Russ Feingold asked Negroponte whether there were any other "intelligence collection" programs that had not been revealed to the full Intelligence Committees; Negroponte replied, "Senator, I don't know if I can comment on that in open session."
More crimes were committed when the NSA's director failed to follow the law by informing Congress "fully and currently informed" about its wiretapping. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress were outraged when in December 2005, the New York Times (after a year's delay because of interference by Bush officials) published a story outing the illegal wiretaps. Leopold writes, "It's unclear whether the executive order signed by Bush removes the NSA Director from his duty to brief members of Congress about the agency's intelligence gathering programs."
The law requires that intelligence officials obtain a surveillance warrant from the special FISA court and show probable cause that the person they wanted to wiretap was in communication with terrorists abroad. The law gives the government three days after the wiretaps to obtain the warrants if intelligence officials find that the monitoring must be done immediately. Even so, Bush calls the process of obtaining FISA warrants "cumbersome" and ordered repeatedly that such wiretaps be made without any warrants whatsoever. In a December 22, 2005 letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Assistant Attorney General William Moschella wrote that the "President determined it was necessary following September 11 to create an early warning detection system. FISA could not have provided the speed and agility required for the early warning detection system." Moschella was being ingenuous; had the Bush administration wished to obey the law, it could have with no difficulties due to the three-day grace period on obtaining warrants. The fact is that Bush simply felt no need to obey the law. Interestingly, after 9/11, then-Attorney General Ashcroft lobbied successfully for even looser restrictions on obtaining warrants for wiretapping Americans. "since the legislative change," writes Leopold, "more than 4,000 surveillance warrants have been approved by the FISA court, leading many to wonder why Bush selectively chose to bypass the court for what he said were a select number of individuals."
Over a dozen legal scholars dispute Moschella's legal analysis, writing in a joint letter to Congress that Bush failed to identify "any plausible legal authority for such surveillance." The letter continues, "The program appears on its face to violate existing law." Many of the authors of this letter worked in various senior capacities in previous Republican and Democratic administrations; their letter lays out point by point why Bush is unauthorized to permit the NSA to spy on Americans and how he broke the law by approving it. "Even conceding that the President in his role as Commander in Chief may generally collect 'signals intelligence' on the enemy abroad, Congress indisputably has authority to regulate electronic surveillance within the United States, as it has done in FISA," the letter reads. "Where Congress has so regulated, the President can act in contravention of statute only if his authority is exclusive, that is, not subject to the check of statutory regulation. The DOJ letter pointedly does not make that extraordinary claim. The Supreme Court has never upheld warrantless wiretapping within the United States." Additionally, "if the administration felt that FISA was insufficient, the proper course was to seek legislative amendment, as it did with other aspects of FISA in the Patriot Act, and as Congress expressly contemplated when it enacted the wartime wiretap provision in FISA. One of the crucial features of a constitutional democracy is that it is always open to the President -- or anyone else -- to seek to change the law. But it is also beyond dispute that, in such a democracy, the President cannot simply violate criminal laws behind closed doors because he deems them obsolete or impracticable."
Former general counsel of the CIA Jeffrey Smith says he wants to testify that Bush broke the law. He has written a letter to the House Select Committee on Intelligence that says Bush has no legal authority to order the NSA to spy on American citizens. "It is not credible that the 2001 authorization to use force provides authority for the president to ignore the requirements of FISA," Smith wrote, adding that if Bush's executive order authorizing a covert domestic surveillance operation is upheld as legal, "it would be a dramatic expansion of presidential authority affecting the rights of our fellow citizens that undermines the checks and balances of our system, which lie at the very heart of the Constitution."
Former National Security Agency intelligence agent Russell Tice, a Republican and Bush campaign contributor who has also volunteered to testify before Congress, says that not only has Bush broken the law, the wiretapping heralds the US's decay into a police state. Tice was fired from the NSA in May 2005 after he spoke out against a co-worker at the DIA whom he believed might be a double agent for the Chinese. He wrote in a letter to Congress, "It is with my oath as a US intelligence officer weighing heavy on my mind that I wish to report to Congress acts that I believe are unlawful and unconstitutional. The freedom of the American people cannot be protected when our constitutional liberties are ignored and our nation has decayed into a police state."
Tice says of the policy of wiretapping Americans, "Well, as far as an intelligence officer, especially a SIGINT officer at NSA, we're taught from very early on in our careers that you just do not do this. This is probably the number one commandment of the SIGINT Ten Commandments as a SIGINT officer. You will not spy on Americans. It is drilled into our head over and over and over again in security briefings, at least twice a year, where you ultimately have to sign a paper that says you have gotten the briefing. Everyone at NSA who's a SIGINT officer knows that you do not do this. Ultimately, so do the leaders of NSA, and apparently the leaders of NSA have decided that they were just going to go against the tenets of something that's a gospel to a SIGINT officer. ...More than likely this was very closely held at the upper echelons at NSA, and mainly because these people knew -- General Hayden, Bill Black, and probably the new one, Keith Alexander, they all knew this was illegal. So, you know, they kept it from the populace of NSA, because every NSA officer certainly knows this is illegal."
Tice says of the mood at NSA, "So, right now, the atmosphere at NSA and DIA, for that matter, is fear. The security services basically rule over the employees with fear, and people are afraid to come forward. People know if they come forward even in the legal means, like coming to Congress with a concern, your career is over. And that's just the best scenario. There's all sorts of other unfortunate things like, perhaps, if someone gets thrown in jail for either a witch-hunt or something trumping up charges or, you know, this guy who is basically reporting a crime. ...I think most folks at NSA right now are just running scared. They have the security office hanging over their head, which has always been a bunch of vicious folks, and now they've got, you know, this potential witch hunt going on with the Attorney General. People in the intelligence community are afraid. They know that you can't come forward. You have no protections as a whistleblower. These things need to be addressed."
After making his original statement, Tice later says that there is another ongoing top-secret surveillance program that might have violated millions of Americans' Constitutional rights. He tells the the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations on February 14 that he has concerns about a "special access" electronic surveillance program that he characterized as far more wide-ranging than the warrentless wiretapping recently exposed, but he is forbidden from discussing the program with Congress. Tice says he believes it violates the Constitution's protection against unlawful search and seizures but has no way of sharing the information without breaking classification laws. He is not even allowed to tell the congressional intelligence committees -- members or their staff -- because they lack high enough clearance. Neither can he brief the inspector general of the NSA because that office is not cleared to hear the information. Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat, is pressuring subcommittee chairman Christopher Shays, a Republican, to hold hearings on Tice's allegations. "Congress has a role to play in oversight," says a Kucinich spokesman. "The administration does not get to decide what Congress can and can not hear."
Even conservatives are calling for Bush's impeachment. Noted commentator Paul Craig Roberts, an author and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, has compared Bush's actions to those of an out-of-control Roman emperor. After summarizing various moves towards tyranny by earlier American presidents, including Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, writes that Bush is moving closer to a real tyranny, and a real destruction of American democracy, than any president before him, though Roberts focuses less on the wiretapping scandal than Bush's move towards a unified, unilaterally powerful executive branch. "The thrust to enlarge the President's powers predates the Bush administration but is being furthered to a dangerous extent during Bush's second term," he writes. "The confirmation of Bush's nominee, Samuel Alito, a member of the Federalist Society, to the Supreme Court will provide five votes in favor of enlarged presidential powers. President Bush has used 'signing statements' hundreds of times to vitiate the meaning of statutes passed by Congress. In effect, Bush is vetoing the bills he signs into law by asserting unilateral authority as commander-in-chief to bypass or set aside the laws he signs. For example, Bush has asserted that he has the power to ignore the McCain amendment against torture, to ignore the law that requires a warrant to spy on Americans, to ignore the prohibition against indefinite detention without charges or trial, and to ignore the Geneva Conventions to which the US is signatory. In effect, Bush is asserting the powers that accrued to Hitler in 1933," Roberts warns. "His Federalist Society apologists and Department of Justice appointees claim that President Bush has the same power to interpret the Constitution as the Supreme Court. An Alito Court is likely to agree with this false claim. This is the great issue that is before the country. But it is pushed into the background by political battles over abortion and homosexual rights. Many people fighting to strengthen the executive think they are fighting against legitimizing sodomy and murder in the womb. They are unaware that the real issue is that America is on the verge of elevating its president above the law."
Roberts continues, "Bush Justice Department official and Berkeley law professor John Yoo argues that no law can restrict the president in his role as commander-in-chief. Thus, once the president is at war -- even a vague open-ended 'war on terror -- Bush's Justice Department says the president is free to undertake any action in pursuit of war, including the torture of children and indefinite detention of American citizens. The commander-in-chief role is probably sufficiently elastic to expand to any crisis, whether real or fabricated. Thus has the US arrived at the verge of dictatorship." He concludes, "There is today no constitutional party. Both political parties, most constitutional lawyers, and the bar associations are willing to set aside the Constitution whenever it interferes with their agendas. Americans have forgotten the prerequisites for freedom, and those pursuing power have forgotten what it means when it falls into other hands. Americans are very close to losing their constitutional system and civil liberties. It is paradoxical that American democracy is the likely casualty of a 'war on terror' that is being justified in the name of the expansion of democracy."
Roberts is not alone. Former Republican congressman Bob Barr, one of the most prominent voices for the Clinton impeachment, has formed an organization called Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances. The purpose of PRCB is to call for a swift and impartial investigation into the NSA wiretapping. PRCB members include top conservative advisor Grover Norquist; David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union; Paul Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation and Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation. "When the Patriot Act was passed shortly after 9-11, the federal government was granted expanded access to Americans' private information," said Barr. "However, federal law still clearly states that intelligence agents must have a court order to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans on these shores. Yet the federal government overstepped the protections of the Constitution and the plain language of FISA to eavesdrop on Americans' private communication without any judicial checks and without proof that they are involved in terrorism."
In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Barr wrote, "This is just such an egregious violation of the electronic surveillance laws." Weyrich added, "I believe that our executive branch cannot continue to operate without the checks of the other branches. However, I stand behind the President in encouraging Congress to operate cautiously during the hearings so that sensitive government intelligence is not given to our enemies." Keene said, "The need to reform surveillance laws and practices adopted since 9/11 is more apparent now than ever. No one would deny the government the power it needs to protect us all, but when that power poses a threat to the basic rights that make our nation unique, its exercise must be carefully monitored by Congress and the courts. This is not a partisan issue; it is an issue of safeguarding the fundamental freedoms of all Americans so that future administrations do not interpret our laws in ways that pose constitutional concerns." And Gottlieb said, "If the law is not reformed, ordinary Americans' personal information could be swept into all-encompassing federal databases encroaching upon every aspect of their private lives. This is of particular concern to gun owners, whose rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment are currently being infringed upon under the Patriot Act's controversial record search provisions."
Conservative constitutional scholar Bruce Fein, Reagan's former assistant attorney general and now a member of the American Enterprise Institute, said, "[I]f President Bush is totally unapologetic and says I continue to maintain that as a war-time President I can do anything I want -- I don't need to consult any other branches -- that is an impeachable offense. It's more dangerous than Clinton's lying under oath because it jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages. It would set a precedent that...would lie around like a loaded gun, able to be used indefinitely for any future occupant." Fellow AEI scholar Norm Ornstein added, "I think if we're going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that Alexander Hamilton was referring to when impeachment was discussed."
Bush is falling back on the pre-invasion Congressional vote that gave him the power to use military force against terrorist threats as another excuse for his authorization of illegal wiretaps. Even if the Congressional vote can be twisted to support such a claim, this excuse is unsupportable of anything, since it is now clear that Bush authorized such illegal wiretaps and ignored Constitutional law well before 9/11 and long before the Congressional vote. According to Slate, an unnamed official in the telecom industry said NSA's "efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source reports that the NSA approached US carriers and asked for their cooperation in a 'data-mining' operation, which might eventually cull 'millions' of individual calls and e-mails."
One reason why the Bush administration is working so hard to elevate Samuel Alito to the high court is that it seems likely that, sooner or later, the Supreme Court will have to rule on the legality of the NSA wiretaps. And with Alito's (and Scalia's, and Thomas's, and Roberts's) favoring of the "unitary executive" theory that the president can pretty much do as he damn well pleases, Constitution notwithstanding, it seems likely that the high court will rule in favor of Bush no matter what the law says. However, the administration is already marshaling their arguments.
Steinberg writes, "[T]he fact that Bush and Gonzalez are fully aware of the basic illegal and unconstitutional nature of their acts is borne out by their recent arguments regarding the President's 'inherent authority' to carry out warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens and legal resident aliens. First, they claim that under the Congressional resolution authorizing the war on terrorism, the words 'use of military force' include actions such as the warrantless eavesdropping program. Once again, the plain meaning of those words, and even the Congress' intent, belie any such claim. To date, not a single member of the Congress has said that they intended the war on terrorism resolution to include the NSA program, or any program to conduct warrantless searches on US citizens and legal resident aliens. Secondly, the claim that as Commander-in-Chief Bush has inherent authority to suspend the constitution during a time of war is just plain baloney. Nixon tried making the same arguments in relation to warrantless surveillance during the Vietnam War -- in the name of national security -- and was soundly rejected by the US Supreme Court in United States v. United States District Court, 407 US 297 (1972). Moreover, the FISA makes it clear that only when there has been a formal 'declaration of war by the Congress' can the president conduct warrantless searches. Even then, it must only be for the purpose of gathering 'foreign intelligence information' and for no longer than fifteen days without seeking a court order. ...It is, therefore, inherently clear that Bush violated the constitution, and the FISA, when he ordered warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens. Doing so was a federal crime -- a felony -- pursuant to Section 1809(a) of the FISA. Thus, Bush has clearly committed an impeachable offense but I have little faith that the Republican-controlled Congress will perform as required by the same constitution that Bush violated. They are just another bunch of cretins the rest of us are going to have to deal with in the November 2006 elections."
In the last week of January 2006, former NSA director General Michael Hayden, now the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, attempted to defend the administration's illegal wiretaps. As it turns out, Hayden knows little about the Constitution. Reporter Jonathan Landay asked Hayden about the wiretaps' legality under the Fourth Amendment, saying, "My understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures." Hayden retorted, "No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure. That's what it says." Landay said, "But the measure is probable cause, I believe." Hayden: "The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure." Landay: "But does it not say probable --" Hayden: "No. The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure." To refresh Hayden's memory, the Fourth Amendment says in full, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." (Emphasis added.)
In fact, in 2002, Republican senator Mike DeWine attempted to argue that the administration could legally ignore the probable cause statute, and was shot down by administration counsel James Baker: "The Department of Justice has been studying Sen. DeWine's proposed legislation. Because the proposed change raises both significant legal and practical issues, the Administration at this time is not prepared to support it. ...It may not be the case that the probable cause standard has caused any difficulties in our ability to seek the FISA warrants we require, and we will need to engage in a significant review to determine the effect a change in the standard would have on our ongoing operations. If the current standard has not posed an obstacle, then there may be little to gain from the lower standard and, as I previously stated, perhaps much to lose." But while Baker was trumpeting the law as the standard for the administration's actions, the administration was already performing illegal wiretaps on American citizens. Columnist and author William Rivers Pitt writes, "The mind boggles. One can imagine George W. Bush silently thanking God each night for the fact that he has a Republican congress at his back. Were it otherwise, the man would be neck-deep in impeachment hearings. This road trip, and the tortured convolutions being put forth as justification for spying on Americans, leads to one inescapable conclusion: they know what they did was illegal."
Dembloggers' "Cedwyn" reminds us just what Nixon was about to be impeached for thirty-odd years ago: "Pursuant to the plan or scheme specified in Count 1, President Nixon and his co-conspirators: 2. Illegal Wiretaps. Caused wiretaps to be placed on the telephones of seventeen persons without having obtained a court order authorizing the tap, as required by federal law; in violation of sections 241, 371 and 2510-11 of the Criminal Code." Like Nixon, Bush is in direct violation of Article II, Section III of the US Constitution, which requires that the president "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed," and is in direct violation of his oath of office, when he swore to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Note: Much more material pertinent to the wiretapping scandal has broken since I last updated this page. The violation of the Constitution and the usurpation of powers to the executive branch, and the concurrent destruction of American democracy, is far worse than anything I have yet documented. More information will be provided as time allows.
"There will come a time when I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread or a drought of water, but a famine of truth." -- Amos 8:11
"Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion -- and who, therefore, in the next instant (when it is evident that the minority is the stronger) assume its opinion...while truth again reverts to a new minority." -- SØren Kierkegaard
Not Just Wiretaps, and Not Just Terrorists
As the infomercials tell us, "But wait, there's more!" The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that numerous peace activist groups and other anti-Bush organizations have been routinely spied upon by federal agents. These are peaceful, perfectly legal and legitimate groups who have no ties to any terrorist groups and have committed no crimes. Florida's Truth Project has been the target of illegal federal spying. Says director Richard Hersh, "Agents rummaged through the trash, snooped into e-mails, packed Web sites and listened in on phone conversations. We know that address books and activist meeting lists have disappeared." The group, along with many other peaceful anti-Bush groups, are listed in the Pentagon's Talon database as a "credible threat" to national security. The listing cites the group's 2005 gathering at a Quaker meeting house to talk about ways to counter military recruitment at high schools. "Neither you nor anybody in that church had anything to do with terrorism," says Democratic congressman Robert Wexler to Hersh. "The fact is, the Truth Project may have a philosophy that is adverse to the political philosophy and goals of the president of the United States. And as a result of that different philosophy, the president and the secretary of defense ordered that your group be spied upon. There should not be a single American who today remains confident that it couldn't happen to them."
Who's doing all this illegal spying for the Bush administration? Not just the NSA. Capital Hill Blue's Doug Thompson writes, "Besides the NSA, the Pentagon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and dozens of private contractors are spying on millions of Americans 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year." He quotes a former NSA agent who he says "quit in disgust over the use of the agency to spy on Americans" that "It's a total effort to build dossiers on as many Americans as possible. We're no longer in the business of tracking our enemies. We're spying on everyday Americans." Cryptology expert Bruce Schneier believes that Bush has authorized the NSA to turn its spy satellites inward to spy on American citizens. It is documented fact that the NSA, and other agencies are gathering vast amounts of raw data on just about every citizen in the US -- including, potentially, every phone call and e-mail sent by US citizens. One agency is the Terrorist Information Awareness project, formerly known as the Total Information Awareness project, supposedly killed by Congress almost two years ago. It is not dead; instead, it collects data on Americans at a computer center located at 3801 Fairfax Drive in Arlington, Virginia. The system, set up by retired admiral John Poindexter, once convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal, compiles financial, travel and other data on the day-to-day activities of Americans and then runs that data through a computer model to look for patterns that the agency deems "terrorist-related behavior."
Poindexter admits the program was quietly moved into the Pentagon's "black bag" program where it does escapes Congressional oversight. "TIA builds a profile of every American who travels, has a bank account, uses credit cards and has a credit record," says security expert Allen Banks. "The profile establishes norms based on the person's spending and travel habits. Then the system looks for patterns that break from the norms, such of purchases of materials that are considered likely for terrorist activity, travel to specific areas or a change in spending habits." If an American exhibits patterns of behavior that trigger the computer's profiles, then that person becomes a "person of interest" who is brought to the attention of both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. Intelligence pros call the process "data mining," something the NSA excels at, according to former NSA signals intelligence analyst Russell Tice. "The technology exists," says Tice, who left the NSA earlier this year. "say Aunt Molly in Oklahoma calls her niece at an Army base in Germany and says, 'Isn't it horrible about those terrorists and September 11th,'" Tice told the Atlanta Constitution recently. "That conversation would not only be captured by NSA satellites listening in on Germany -- which is legal -- but flagged and listened to by NSA analysts and possibly transcribed for further investigation. All you would have to do is move the vacuum cleaner a little to the left and begin sucking up the other end of that conversation. You move it a little more and you could be picking up everything people are saying from California to New York."
(Note: Thompson, and Capital Hill Blue, are known to be less than reliable, but in this case Thompson is culling material from other, more reliable sources.)
The Pentagon has built a massive database of Americans it considers threats, including members of antiwar groups, peace activists and writers opposed to the war in Iraq. Pentagon officials now claim they are "reviewing the files" to see if the information is necessary to the "war on terrorism." Few are reassured. "Given the military's legacy of privacy abuses, such vague assurances are cold comfort," says Gene Healy, senior editor of the CATO Institute in Washington. "During World War I, concerns about German saboteurs led to unrestrained domestic spying by US Army intelligence operatives," says Healy. "Army spies were given free reign to gather information on potential subversives, and were often empowered to make arrests as special police officers. Occasionally, they carried false identification as employees of public utilities to allow them, as the chief intelligence officer for the Western Department put it, 'to enter offices or residences of suspects gracefully, and thereby obtain data. ...There's a long and troubling history of military surveillance in this country. That history suggests that we should loathe allowing the Pentagon access to our personal information."
Historian Joan Jenson wrote in her book Army Surveillance in America, "What began as a system to protect the government from enemy agents became a vast surveillance system to watch civilians who violated no law but who objected to wartime policies or to the war itself." A Congressional aide who recently obtained information on the program for his boss, but refuses to be identified for fear of retaliation, says flatly, "It's a f*cking nightmare. We're collecting more information on Americans than on real enemies of our country." Senator Jay Rockefeller says he raised concerns more than two years ago about increased spying on Americans but, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, could not share that concern with colleagues. "For the last few days, I have witnessed the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney-General repeatedly misrepresent the facts," Rockefeller said last week. When he was first briefed about the activity in 2003, he sent a handwritten note to Vice President Dick Cheney outlining his concerns. "I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ensure that I have a record of this communication," Rockefeller told Cheney. However, Rockefeller says now, "my concerns were never addressed, and I was prohibited from sharing my views with my colleagues." Congressman William Clay worries that the Bush Adminstration is skirting the law by letting private contractors handle the data mining. "The agencies involved in data mining are trying to skirt the Privacy Act by claiming that they hold no data," says Clay. Instead, they use private companies to maintain and sift through the data. "Technically, that gets them out from under the Privacy Act," he says. "Ethically, it does not."
A Plethora of Impeachable Offenses
The author of the "What Really Happened" Web site has compiled a list of other impeachable crimes and offenses committed by the Bush administration. I'm using an edited version of that list here; additional sources and details are forthcoming. Additional material is drawn from Raw Story, Glenn Greenwald, and Jeff Rense.
- The now famous Downing Street Memo, along with the testimony of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil, together constitute direct evidence of a decision by Bush to invade a sovereign foreign nation on entirely specious grounds. Also, we now know that Bush intentionally leaked classified information to make his case for war, a felony and certainly an impeachable offense. The information was falsified in order to bolster the administration's case that the Hussein regime was a clear and imminent threat to the US. The information was used by the administration's pet reporter, Judith Miller, in a series of New York Times articles alleging that aluminum tubes obtained by Iraq were clearly and unequivocally proof of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program. That information was false on its face. According to documents obtained by Congress, the information was most likely leaked by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Congressman John Conyers writes, "In the summer of 2002, Wolfowitz convened a secret meeting [concerning the tubes] in his office with Francis Brooke, the INC [Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress] adviser, and Khidir Hamza, a former chief of Saddam's nuclear program, who had defected to America in 1994.... Wolfowitz circulated his conclusions to his administration allies.
- A few days later, the story of the 'nuclear' tubes was leaked to the New York Times, where it landed on the front page. On the CNN documentary, Dead Wrong, an anonymous source characterized the dissemination of this biased and slanted information to Miller and [fellow reporter Michael] Gordon as 'official leaking': 'I would call it official leaking because I think these were authorized conversations between the press and members of the intelligence community that further misreported the nature of the intelligence community's disagreement on this issue.'" In response to the false report from the Times, administration spokespersons such as Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice fanned out to various media outlets, saying such things as "[Iraq has obtained] high quality aluminum tubes that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs...We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud" (Rice, on CNN, September 8, 2002, the day the report was published) and "I do know with absolutely certainty that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon" (Cheney on NBC, the same day). In fact, false media leaks using classified information can be traced back as far as late July, 2002, when the Washington Times printed a report based on false administration information that Hussein was attempting to secure materials for a nuclear weapons program. Knight Ridder's Jonathan Landay explained how this worked: "[The leaks] appearance in the nation's most influential paper also gave Cheney and Rice an opportunity to discuss the matter the same day on the Sunday television talk shows. They could discuss the article, but otherwise they wouldn't have been able to talk about classified intelligence in public."
- It is worth noting that former British Cabinet secretary Robin Cook's 2003 diary "Point of Departure" documents the tremendous amount of lying and fact-falsification that took place before the invasion.
- We also now know that in January 2003 Britain's Tony Blair secretly joined with Bush in agreeing to push for the war even if the United Nations refused to pass a resolution authorizing action against Iraq. The two leaders met at the White House on January 31 and agreed to go forward with the invasion with or without UN approval, a clear violation of the UN Charter, of international law and numerous international treaties, as well as a violation of the Nuremberg and Geneva Conventions. "The diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," Bush told Blair. Blair raised no objections, and said publicly that he was "solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam." Amazingly, Bush floated a plan to provoke a UN violation by Iraq, by suggesting that the US paint a U-2 spy plane in UN colors, fly it over Iraq, and try to provoke the Iraqi military into shooting at it, which would have violated UN sanctions against Iraq. He discussed the possibility of information from "defectors" that would justify an invasion, and talked over the possibility that Hussein could be assassinated. Blair told Bush that a second UN resolution would be an "insurance policy," providing "international cover, including with the Arabs" if anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Hussein increased the stakes by burning oil wells, killing children, or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq. In a striking display of ignorance, Bush also told Blair that he "thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Blair did not disagree with him.
- Of course, both Bush and Blair publicly disavowed any plans to invade Iraq even as late as February 25, with Blair insisting that Iraq would be given at least one more chance to "voluntarily disarm." Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat acting leader, said of the Bush-Blair memo, "The fact that consideration was apparently given to using American military aircraft in UN colors in the hope of provoking Saddam Hussein is a graphic illustration of the rush to war. It would also appear to be the case that the diplomatic efforts in New York after the meeting of January 31 were simply going through the motions. The prime minister's offer of February 25 to Saddam Hussein was about as empty as it could get. He has a lot of explaining to do." Most memorably, when Blair was asked why he went along so readily with Bush's plans to invade Iraq in violation of so many laws and treaties, Blair responded that had he not joined Bush's invasion plans, Bush would have invaded Iraq unilaterally as early as September 2002.
- The decision to deploy chemical weapons in Fallujah came from Rumsfeld; it is unlikely that Rumsfeld would have taken such action without Bush's approval. A Congressional investigatation is required to find out more about this decision and its ramifications.
- The decision by Bush to illegally spy on UN diplomats, in an effort to find "dirt" on them to use for political purposes, when the General Assembly was considering his ill-fated war resolution.
- Authorizing torture of POW's -- a direct violation of the protocols of the Geneva Convention. Author Ivan Eland writes, "[Bush's] policies on detainees in the 'war on terror' probably qualify as impeachable offenses. The Bush administration decided that the 'war on terror' exempted it from an unambiguous criminal law and international conventions (which are also the law of the land) preventing torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners. An American president permitting torture is both disgraceful and ineffective in getting good information from those held. Furthermore, the administration concocted the fictitious category of 'enemy combatants' to deprive detainees of the legal protections of either the US courts or 'prisoner-of-war' status. The administration then tried to detain these enemy combatants, some of them American citizens, indefinitely without trial, access to counsel, or the right to have courts to review their cases." Former vice president Al Gore said, "[T]he Executive Branch has claimed a previously unrecognized authority to mistreat prisoners in its custody in ways that plainly constitute torture in a pattern that has now been documented in US facilities located in several countries around the world. Over 100 of these captives have reportedly died while being tortured by Executive Branch interrogators and many more have been broken and humiliated. In the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, investigators who documented the pattern of torture estimated that more than 90 percent of the victims were innocent of any charges."
- Holding so called "non-combatant civilians" for an indefinite period of time, depriving them of judicial due process (their day in court), access to counsel, and access to family members who could plead their cause to the public. Such imprisonment of American citizens is a direct violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
- Kidnapping so called "terror suspects," placing them on secret CIA flights ("rendering" the suspects, against international and US law), and sending them to countries like Uzbekistan who boil these untried, unconvicted people alive.
- Foreknowledge of 9/11 by Bush, Rice, and the top Neocons at the Pentagon. While this subject is hotly debated (and extensively covered in my 9/11 page), a full investigation of the Bush administration's probable foreknowledge of the attacks, and the possibility that administration officials hindered the US's response to those attacks, is needed.
- Engaging in a massive voter suppression campaign in the state of Ohio to secure a second term by fraudulent means. Such activities carry criminal sanctions as outlined in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- Covering up the possible involvement of Israel's Mossad in 9/11. The official that secreted these spies and explosives experts out of country and back into Israel, Michael Chertoff, was promoted from the Criminal Division of the Justice Department to lead the Department of Homeland Security. This is discussed at some length in my 9/11 page, though the evidence of the level and intent of Mossad's involvement is questionable.
- John Ashcroft's attempt to quash the testimony of Sibel Edmonds using the bogus shield of the States Secret Act.
- Engaging in a sytematic campaign of depriving political dissidents of their First Amendment rights to protest Bush administration policies. Protesters are removed out of crowds and summarily placed in jail, or forced to gather in so-called "free speech zones," a clear violation of the Bill of Rights. The Secret Service, under orders of the president, conduct "harassment and intimidation interviews" of anti-Bush political activists.
- Conspiring with Enron to steal billions from the people of California by creating false energy shortages,thus creating the casus belli for charging energy consumers illegal, confiscatory rates.
- Conspiring to rig the vote count in the state of Florida by hacking optical scan machines and E-voting machines and covering up the latter by passing legislation in the state of Florida to prevent post-election examination of E-voting machines.
- Illegally transferring $700 million from the budget for the war in Afghanistan for war preparations in Iraq in July 2002, without Congressional approval. This is a Constitutional violation.
- The "outing" of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.
- Violating the First Amendment by threatening to imprison American journalists who publish stories containing information that the administration would rather keep secret. Glenn Greenwald writes, "It really is hard to imagine any measures which pose a greater and more direct danger to our freedoms than the issuance of threats like this by the administration against the press. If the President has the power to keep secret any information he wants simply by classifying it -- including information regarding illegal or otherwise improper actions he has taken -- then the President, by definition, has complete control over the flow of information which Americans receive about their Government." Greenwald notes that virtually every piece of negative information about the Bush administration to emerge into the public eye has been painstakingly dug out by investigative journalists -- without them, we would know nothing except the endless flow of happy talk emanating from Karl Rove's office.
- Greenwald says, "There is not a single instance -- not one -- which reflects any harm to our national security as a result of any of these disclosures. The press goes out of its way to avoid disclosing information which could harm national security -- the [New York] Times concealed all operational details of the NSA program when it disclosed that the President was eavesdropping without warrants and the [Washington] Post concealed the location of the secret gulags in Eastern Europe when reporting that they existed. These disclosures trigger public debate over highly controversial matters and, as a result, often harm the President politically. But none of them is an example of gratuitous disclosure of secret information intended to harm national security. That is how our country has operated for at least the last century, through two world wars and scores of other military conflicts. The press reports classified information to the extent that doing so brings to the public's attention legitimate matters of political debate, and it exercises self-restraint by concealing information which could harm national security and which is unnecessary for the debate to be had.
- "And unlike many other countries whom we have never (until now) aspired to copy, we do not threaten journalists with prison or prosecute them for publishing such stories, precisely because that conduct is a critical and necessary component of the checks and balances which preserve liberty in our country. It ought to go without saying that the press cannot serve as a check against the Executive branch if the only information it publishes is information which the President wants it to publish. Then the press becomes Pravda, existing solely to pass along information to citizens which the Government wants it to convey. That's the world where the administration wants Americans to believe that we have to wage war against Iraq to rid it of its WMDs, and so selectively 'leaks' to Judith Miller the information which bolsters that claim while concealing the information which undermines it. And the Government's claims then are printed on the front page of the New York Times under the guise of independent reporting, without any contrary information being disclosed."
- Greenwald notes in an update to his original May 22, 2006 report that not one major news outlet has protested against the destruction of America's free press. Apparently, they are being good puppies and saving the administration the trouble of muzzling them, by muzzling themselves.
Almost all of these offenses are covered in the pages of my site.
"Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues of truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." -- Thomas Jefferson
The Will to Impeach
So far, what is lacking in this country is the political will in Washington to even consider impeachment as an option. Neither Democrats nor Republicans, even those Republicans most horrified at Bush's criminal excesses, have shown any interest in considering this step, except for a few out-of-the-mainstream Democrats who put their country's interests above their own comfort and position. Washington Post polling editor Richard Morin says his paper will not ask its readers their opinions about impeachment because no Democrat of any stature has broached the subject in public.
But there is a groundswell building. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute recently told a radio audience, "I think if we're going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that Alexander Hamilton was referring to when impeachment was discussed." Democratic senator Barbara Boxer, after being told by former Nixon counsel John Dean that Bush was the first president to have actually admitted to an impeachable offense, has consulted four legal scholars about impeachment proceedings. "The American public has to understand that a crime has been committed, a serious crime," said Chris Pyle, a professor of politics and an expert on government surveillance of civilians. Conservative Bruce Fein, who once recommended that Bush pack the Supreme Court with clones of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, is now fearful of the president he once supported: "President Bush presents a clear and present danger to the rule of law," he wrote in the right-wing Washington Times. "He cannot be trusted to conduct the war against global terrorism with a decent respect for civil liberties and checks against executive abuses. Congress should swiftly enact a code that would require Mr. Bush to obtain legislative consent for every counterterrorism measure that would materially impair individual freedoms."
Fein worries that Bush not only breaks laws with impunity, but shows nothing but contempt for the principle of separation of powers -- in other words, his and Dick Cheney's dreams of a "unitary executive," which is little less than a dictatorship. Fein wants to see congressional hearings that would explore whether Bush accepts any constitutional limitation on his own authority. "The most important thing to me, in terms of thinking about the issue of impeachment, is to recognize that the Constitution does place a value on continuity," Fein says. "We don't want to have a situation where you make a single error, and you're exposed to an impeachment proceeding." Fein says Congress should probe Bush on whether he plans to keep "skating the edge" of federal law by trying to concentrate power in the executive branch. "That's the key. It's that probing that's essential to knowing whether we're dealing with somebody who's really a dangerous guy. If he maintains this disregard or contempt for the coordinate branches of government, it's that conception of an omnipotent presidency that makes the occupant a dangerous person. We just can't sacrifice our liberties for ourselves and our posterity by permitting someone who thinks the state is him, and nobody else, to continue in office."
And law professor and surveillance law expert Jonathan Turley (who testified to Congress in favor of Clinton's impeachment) said, "Looking at this controversy objectively, you inevitably end up with a question of impeachment. ...The fact is, the federal law is perfectly clear. At the heart of this operation was a federal crime. The president has already conceded that he personally ordered that crime and renewed that order at least 30 times. This would clearly satisfy the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors for the purpose of an impeachment." Turley added elsewhere, "The president's dead wrong. It's not a close question. Federal law is clear. When the president admits that he violated federal law, that raises serious constitutional questions of high crimes and misdemeanors." Some brave Democrats are indeed broaching the subject. Representative John Conyers has called for a select committee to investigate "those offenses which appear to rise to the level of impeachment" (see below). And fellow representative John Lewis recently said, "If there is a move to impeach the president, I will sign that bill of impeachment." Several Republican senators, including Lindsay Graham, Arlen Specter, and Richard Lugar, have joined Democrats in calling for an investigation.
But it's unlikely this Congress will do anything more than pontificate -- those who aren't lining up to defend the president. "We have finally reached the constitutional Rubicon," Turley says. "If Congress cannot stand firm against the open violation of federal law by the president, then we have truly become an autocracy." "Politically, I see no possibility that impeachment will succeed," says political science professor Jonathan Entin. "The Democrats are a minority in both houses of Congress. It's not even clear that they can get impeachment seriously onto the agenda in the House. Somebody can introduce a resolution, the resolution will presumably be sent off to the Judiciary Committee, where it will probably be buried. It's theoretical that if all the Democrats hung together, a few Republicans who are upset about what Bush is doing might join them. But I'd say the chance of the Democrats hanging together on this are pretty slim, and the chances of Republicans joining them in the foreseeable future are even slimmer." Pyle, who exposed the Army's domestic spying program during the Vietnam War, adds, "The only question here is the political one." He believes that Bush has committed an impeachable offense -- and that right now there's no prospect he will be impeached. "This president has admitted committing the crime. He just claims he's above the law. So the issue is: Is the president above the law?" If so, Pyle continues, "then we need not argue over the Patriot Act. We do not need the Patriot Act, because the president can do anything he wants in time of war. He can ignore all the criminal laws of the United States, including the laws against indefinite detention and against torture. I don't think we want to go down that road." When asked if we aren't already down that road, "We may be," he answers. "Maybe it's time to call a halt." (Information from Michelle Goldberg's Salon article)
Who's Leading the Charge?
As of late April 2004, 32 US Representatives were asking for a probe into the grounds of impeaching Bush. The resolution, H. Res 635, is sponsored by Rep. John Conyers and co-sponsored by the others. 31 representatives are Democrats, joined by one independent, Vermont's Bernie Sanders. Even more Congressional members are on board as either asking for impeachment, a Congressional inquiry that could recommend impeachment, or Bush's outright resignation. John Lewis has called for Bush's impeachment over the NSA wiretapping scandal, and Cynthia McKinney and Bobby Rush are calling for Bush to resign. HR 635 was actually written before the NSA wiretapping became public knowledge, so it is not included in the resolution, which covers a number of issues from misleading the public to go to war, to authorizing torture. Some members of Congress, such as Lewis, appear to see firmer grounds for impeaching Bush over his controversial authorization of illegal wiretapping on Americans, than for the reasons cited in 635. Lewis told a radio station in December he would support impeachment over wiretapping. It is unclear at this point whether Conyers or another member of Congress is prepared to introduce a new bill which would deal specifically with impeaching Bush over wiretapping.
The 32 members who have signed on to HR 635 are representatives John Conyers, Neil Abercrombie, Tammy Baldwin, Michael Capuano, Lois Capps, William Lacy Clay, Sam Farr, Maurice Hinchey, Mike Honda, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Barbara Lee, John Lewis, Carolyn Maloney, Betty McCollum, Jim McDermott, Cynthia McKinney, Gwen Moore, Jerrold Nadler, James Oberstar, John Olver, Major Owens, Donald Payne, Charles Rangel, Martin Sabo, Bernie Sanders, Jan Schakowsky, Fortney Pete Stark, John Tierney, Nydia Velazquez, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, and David Wu. One of the initial co-sponsors, Zoe Lofgren, withdrew her name, citing a clerical error. Still, Lofgren is highly disturbed by the NSA wiretapping as well as the false information leading up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. "serious questions have been raised about President Bush's actions in approving warrantless wiretaps by the NSA, as well as questions about both the Vice President's and the President's information that was provided to the Congress as the basis for the decision to initiate war in Iraq," Lofgren said in a statement. "These important questions need to be answered, and Congress should then consider the answers in a careful, deliberate and thoughtful manner. It is important that this process be done in a dispassionate way that avoids partisanship. This thorough analysis should, in my judgment, be undertaken before anything such as these resolutions are considered." According to an earlier article, House Democrats are under intense pressure from the centrist Democratic National Committee to stay away from advocating impeachment.
Meanwhile, McKinney and Rush signed a "World Can't Wait" statement calling on Bush to "step down." Three other members of Congress signed that statement -- Conyers, Waters, and Owens -- but they are already included in the impeach-or-resign count due to their sponsoring of H. Res. 635.
Since the advent of the Democratic takeover of Congress in November 2006, the new Congressional leaders have decided that there are neither the votes nor the will among its membership to press for any sort of impeachment. Three House Democrats, led by longshot 2008 presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, have filed legislation recommending that impeachment proceedings be taken up, but as of summer 2007, that legislation seems unlikely to ever reach the floor for debate.
Republican senators Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar, and Olympia Snowe joined Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and Ron Wyden in calling for a joint investigation by the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees into whether the government eavesdropped "without appropriate legal authority." In a joint letter to the chairmen of the two panels, they wrote, "It is critical that Congress determine, as quickly as possible, exactly what collection activities were authorized, what were actually undertaken, how many names and numbers were involved over what period, and what was the asserted legal authority for such activities." Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter, a Republican, has said, "I have grave doubts as to its applicability," and added that Bush's order "raises very fundamental questions...about privacy and the Bill of Rights." Hagel said bluntly, "Every president, that we know of, has complied with the law [FISA]. No president is above the law. We are a nation of laws and no president, majority leader, or chief justice of the Supreme Court can unilaterally or arbitrarily avoid a law or dismiss a law. If the vice president holds a different point of view, then he holds a different point of view. ...I take an oath of office to the Constitution. I don't take an oath of office to the vice president, a president or a political party."
Liberal Democrat Maxine Waters, a US representative, said on February 3 in response to Bush's State of the Union address, "His message tonight will not deal honestly with the mistakes that he's made. And I believe that the latest revelations about him and his spying on American citizens -- no matter how he tries to frame it -- are impeachable offenses. I believe that this president is not only spying on American citizens in the way that he's describing it, but to indicate in any shape form or fashion that he's been authorized by Congress to do it on the vote that was taken after 9-11 is plain dishonest. And further to try to imply that he's supported by the Constitution of the United States is even more dishonest. And so, I think that this issue that he's been caught red-handed on is really typical of who he is, how he handles this presidency, and what his leadership is all about: spying and lying. And I think it is important for us to understand that all of the other issues that we're going to talk about today -- and particularly the war in Iraq -- will continue to exemplify how he has lied and misled the American public."
On March 13, 2006, Democratic senator and presidential hopeful Russ Feingold introduced a motion to censure George W. Bush for authorizing the National Security Agency to wiretap Americans suspected of links to terrorism without a court warrant. Feingold, who lacks the support of most of his Democratic colleagues, says the Democrats should stop "cowering" before Bush on national security issues: "If there's any Democrat out there who can't say the president has no right to make up his own laws, I don't know if that Democrat really is the right [presidential] candidate." The text of Feingold's press release concerning the motion, and the motion itself, can be found here. While no one, including Feingold, expects the censure to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, and some say that the censure motion strategically plays into the hands of Republicans looking for a way to energize their increasingly disaffected base, Feingold says that his censure motion is a way for Democrats to prove that they stand for basic American freedoms and the rule of law. Only one president, Andrew Jackson in 1834, was ever censured, and Congress expunged that censure resolution three years. It is mostly a symbolic tool of Senate condemnation. Feingold says that the barrage of criticism from Republicans goes to prove he is correct: "If such a crazy idea has such limited appeal, why do they have the attack dogs calling all over the country about this? It touches a nerve."
Famed journalist Carl Bernstein agrees. In the April issue of Vanity Fair, Bernstein writes, "Raising the worse-than-Watergate question and demanding unequivocally that Congress seek to answer it is, in fact, overdue and more than justified by ample evidence stacked up from Baghdad back to New Orleans and, of increasing relevance, inside a special prosecutor's office in downtown Washington." While Bernstein says that impeachment, and perhaps even censure, is premature and has no real chance of passing, he advocates a bipartisan commission to thoroughly investigate the actions of the current administration "to learn what this president and his vice president knew and when they knew it; to determine what the Bush administration has done under the guise of national security; and to find out who did what, whether legal or illegal, unconstitutional or merely under the wire, in ignorance or incompetence or with good reason, while the administration barricaded itself behind the most Draconian secrecy and disingenuous information policies of the modern presidential era."
Bernstein writes, "As with Watergate, the investigation of George W. Bush and his presidency needs to start from a shared premise and set of principles that can be embraced by Democrats and Republicans, by liberals and centrists and conservatives, and by opponents of the war and its advocates: that the president of the United States and members of his administration must defend the requirements of the Constitution, obey the law, demonstrate common sense, and tell the truth. Obviously there will be disagreements, even fierce ones, along the way. Here again the Nixon example is useful: Republicans on the Senate Watergate Committee, including its vice chairman, Howard Baker of Tennessee ('What did the president know and when did he know it?'), began the investigation as defenders of Nixon. By its end, only one was willing to make any defense of Nixon's actions. ...There was understandable reluctance in the Congress to begin a serious investigation of the Nixon presidency. Then there came a time when it was unavoidable. That time in the Bush presidency has arrived."
"When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." -- Richard Nixon
The Reverend Bill McGinniss, director of LoveAllPeople.org, has done some research on the parliamentary procedures surrounding the impeachment of a president or other high-ranking official According to McGinniss, any House member can introduce a resolution for impeachment which must immediately be taken up for debate by the entire House. If voted down, it can be introduced again and again as desired. He has provided links to both the House Rules and Manual, the general rules of procedure governing the House of Representatives, and the pertinent sections regarding impeachment. The interesting thing is that a resolution for impeachment does not have to go through committee, but can be brought up at any time by any House member.
"The American people are going to have to say, 'Enough of this business of justifying everything as necessary for the war on terror.' Either the Constitution and the laws of this country mean something or they don't. It is truly frightening what is going on in this country. ...The President has dared the American people to do something about it. For the sake of the Constitution, I hope they will." -- former Republican representative Bob Barr
"A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution -- our system of checks and balances -- was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: 'The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men.' An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution -- an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, 'the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.'" -- former vice president Al Gore
Note: This quote is from a source known to be sometimes less than reliable. Take it with a grain of salt. For me, whether or not it is an accurate quote, I believe it accurately reflects Bush's thinking -- hence its inclusion.