Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Jay Rockefeller Awarded Intelligence Public Service Medal: For Telecom and Torture Immunity?

Hollywood launched its annual award season Sunday night with the star studded extravaganza that is the Golden Globes. While many of the celebs were kicking off their Jimmy Choos and nursing hangovers, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) was preparing for an awards program of its own.

 On Monday, the ODNI awarded the recently established National Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Medal to Senator John D. Rockefeller IV. It’s not known if there were others in the running, but a prior commitment to keeping numerous briefings about wiretapping and torture on the down-low and opposing the appointment of special counsel to investigate the destruction of the infamous “torture tapes” may have sealed the deal.

This A-list recipient and outgoing chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) fought valiantly at the behest of the telecom companies who aided the NSA in warrantless wiretapping. This not only provided a public service to telecom giants like Verizon and AT&T, but likely prevented unsavory details about the Bush administration and the National Security Agency from surfacing. The little people would just have to deal while the big boys – including Rockefeller – could breathe a sigh of relief.

Senator Rockefeller’s public service credentials also include a vote to suspend habeas corpus for anyone designated an unlawful combatant by an unlawful president. This act would prevent them from challenging their detention in court – a right spelled out in the increasingly redacted document that President George W. Bush referred to as “just a g-damned piece of paper.”

In addition, the senator’s vote gave sole power to the president to “interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” No death, organ failure or permanent damage? No whining. There are plenty of other ways for the CIA to gather flawed intelligence.

Going above and beyond the call of duty, Senator Rockefeller voted for retroactive immunity to save the hides of U.S. officials who authorized or engaged in torture. One could conclude that it would also protect those who were briefed on methods like waterboarding and raised no objections.

For those who couldn’t withstand the act of drowning, extreme temperatures, sensory deprivation, or excruciating stress positions, he helped to ensure that whatever they spilled could be used against them in military tribunals provided the “enhanced” interrogations occurred before December 30, 2005. They did confess after all – right?

During the ceremony, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, remarked that “Senator Rockefeller’s advocacy for the change in the law provided the Intelligence Community with a critical capability for ensuring national security while respecting the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.”

Mr. Rockefeller – wearing a Navy blue suit and lavender tie – graciously accepted the medal “with gratitude and with a deep appreciation for the men and women of the Intelligence Community.”

In a post ceremony photo-op, the senator held a commanding presence towering over Director McConnell and Principal Deputy Director, Donald Kerr. But, it was McConnell’s mischievous grin and Kerr’s strained smile that served as a visual reminder that something was amiss in the awarding of this newly founded Distinguished Public Service Medal by the Director of National Intelligence.

That something can be found in the jurisdiction of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence which was established “to provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who conducted one-on-one presidential daily briefings of Reagan’s most senior advisers, remarked that the award “Really points to the pernicious marriage of the intelligence committees and the spies who con them.”

Without a director who demonstrates integrity and courage, he added “The committees are the only check to the CIA becoming the personal Gestapo of the president and vice president . . . look at torture, eavesdropping, and the rest of it. The key committee members were all compromised, coopted, and, I’ll bet, eavesdropped upon, to ensure complicity and silence.”

That both Sen. Dianne Feinstein, incoming chair to the SSCI, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller made such a stink at the unexpected announcement of Leon Panetta as Obama’s pick for CIA director – a man that McGovern believes embodies the necessary courage and integrity – is rather telling.

Meanwhile, politicians from both parties, with the help of the corporate media, are working overtime to convince president-elect Obama that the Bush methods have been essential to keeping America safe. If Obama can be persuaded to continue some of these practices, even in an altered form, they’ll have successfully eliminated any real chance for investigation and prosecution.

The Wall Street Journal threw a fit when the Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody found abuses were authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration thus opening the door for prosecutions. The WSJ called the report a “disgrace” and charged that Bush officials were simply “protecting the country.”

The Washington Post pointed out last week that president-elect Obama has a tough decision ahead of him. They suggested that the Bush administration’s “detention and interrogation policies” have “ensured the nation’s security.” In demonstrating the case for these policies, they deferred to Vice President Dick Cheney – of all people – who declared “Those were programs that have been absolutely essential to maintaining our capacity to interfere with and defeat all further attacks against the United States.”

Somehow the WSJ, WashPost and Dick Cheney know more than men like Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, who as Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence said, “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices” adding “It would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. We can’t afford to go there.”

No, we can’t. And neither can Barack Obama.

 

Rep. Hoekstra Won’t Seek Reelection: Good News for Intelligence Integrity?

Originally posted at OpEdNews.com

Reid Wilson of The Hill reported overnight that Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the newly reappointed ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, will announce on Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2010. It has long been speculated that Rep. Hoekstra is contemplating a gubernatorial run in his state of Michigan.

Hoekstra’s anticipated departure from Congress and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in two years won’t be soon enough for some based on his troubling relationship with intelligence.

In June 2006, when it was reported that chemical munition shells had been uncovered in Iraq Rep. Hoekstra and Sen. Rick Santorum, who was fighting to retain his Senate seat, triumphantly announced that the long sought after WMD had been discovered thus vindicating the Bush administration and Santorum – a fierce advocate of the Iraq invasion.

Turned out the munitions had been buried during the eight-year war with Iran – a war that ended in 1988. The military announced that indeed these shells had been uncovered but the chemical agent was no longer active. Not even the Bush administration – nor the CIA for that matter – made any attempt to claim these long-forgotten and inactive munitions were the smoking gun proof of an active WMD program in Iraq.

Hoekstra then set his sites on Iran. In August 2006 Rep. Hoekstra, then chair of the House Intelligence Committee, released a report titled Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States.

One of the first critics of the report was former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern. He charged that Hoekstra was “hyping up the Iran threat.” McGovern, no stranger to intelligence estimates having chaired NIE’s during his tenure at the CIA, called the report a “pseudo-estimate.”

From Ray McGovern’s August 2006 article, “The paper amounts to a pre-emptive strike on what’s left of the Intelligence Community, usurping its prerogative to provide policymakers with estimates on front-burner issues – in this case, Iran’s weapons of mass destruction and other threats. The Senate had already requested a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran. But Hoekstra is first out of the starting gate. Professional intelligence officers were ‘as a courtesy’ invited to provide input to Hoekstra’s report.”

Noting the title of the report and the go-it-alone approach, McGovern asserted, “The challenge set before the Intelligence Community is to get religion, climb aboard, and ‘recognize’ Iran as a strategic threat. But alas, the community has not yet been fully purged of recalcitrant intelligence analysts who reject a ‘faith-based’ approach to intelligence and hang back from the altar call to revealed truth. Hence, the statutory intelligence agencies cannot be counted on to come to politically correct conclusions regarding the strategic threat from Iran.”

Two and a half weeks later, the Washington Post received a copy of a letter sent by officials at the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) addressed to Rep. Hoesktra complaining angrily that several of the statements in the report were “erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated.”

The Washington Post article reported, “The agency noted five major errors in the committee’s 29-page report, which said Iran’s nuclear capabilities are more advanced than either the IAEA or U.S. intelligence has shown.”

A year later, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published Iran Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. When the key judgments of the NIE were released in early December 2007, it turned the rhetoric of the Bush administration and politicians like Hoekstra on its head when it reported with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons program.

Following its release, Hoekstra lashed out claiming “The intelligence community has proven over past five to seven years that they can’t get analysis right. They can’t build satellites. They can’t keep a secret. And now they expect us to say, great work? This is dead nuts!” He later called the subsequent briefing by the 16-member intelligence agencies “pathetic.”

Fast forward to December 2008, when Rep. Hoekstra participated in a conference call on the “threat of Iran” – after telling participants that the Office of the DNI “continues to be a disappointment,” he offered his own take on the situation with Iran.

As he approached the subject of Iran and nuclear weapons, Hoekstra readily admitted that he was basing his statements on speculation because there was no “real hard information” available. In no time at all, he moved from speculating to making a firm statement that “They [Iran] clearly want to move forward on their nuclear weapons program.” As such, it was important that the military action option remains open.

Still harboring disdain for the 2007 NIE on Iran, he claimed “Regardless of what the National Intelligence Estimate that came out that was very poorly written and very poorly communicated, Iran continues to move forward very aggressively on its nuclear program.”

As reported in my article of December 12, Representative Hoekstra also offered a window into his priorities as they relate to the incoming Obama administration. Hoekstra conjectured that on January 20, President Obama will face the realization that controversial programs such as “enhanced” interrogation and Guantanamo implemented by the Bush administration “rightly or wrongly have kept America’s homeland safe for seven-and-a-half years.”

Just one more example of Hoekstra’s out of step thought-process. It is disturbing that he appears to have no regard for whether these programs are “right or wrong” particularly for a man in his position as ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.

In addition, his claims are in direct contrast to the findings of the Senate Armed Service Committee’s Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody which determined that use of aggressive techniques on detainees “Damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”

Unfortunately, we may not be able to count on the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Democrat Sylvestre Reyes, to provide a counter balance to Hoekstra’s unwavering devotion to the president’s programs.

Congress Daily reported last week that Reyes recommended to Obama’s transition team that some parts of the “alternative” interrogation program should be retained.

One thing we can count on is that unless the public gets proactive – and in a big way – we can continue to expect that the status quo will tighten its grip on an incoming president who promised anything but.

 

 

Iraq Veterans Arraigned on Disorderly Conduct Charges: Vow to Defend Right to Free Speech and Assembly

Originally posted at OpEdNews.com

On Monday, the day before Veterans day, 14 members of the ‘Hempstead 15′ were arraigned on charges of disorderly conduct. The charges stem from a protest outside of the final presidential debate at Hofstra University on October 15. The protest was organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) who wanted the issue of veterans’ healthcare and support of war resisters to be addressed by the candidates. What began as an orderly and peaceful gathering escalated into an aggressive use of force by the Nassau County Police Department leaving one Iraq war veteran, Nick Morgan, with a fractured eye orbit and cheekbone.

Nick Morgan following reconstructive surgery (photo by Bill Perry)


Nick Morgan wounded outside presidential debate (photo by Bill Perry)

Video coverage of the protest shows Morgan standing solemnly, hands clasped behind his back while mounted police backed their horses onto the sidewalk and into the crowd. Despite serious injuries and semiconscious state, the police proceeded to handcuff Morgan dragging him across the street to an awaiting bus.

Yesterday Nick, along with 13 others, faced disorderly conduct charges in Nassau County Court. Ten of the 15 charged are members of IVAW. Iraq war veteran, Adam Kokesh, is scheduled to appear in court today, Veterans day.

A throng of supporters gathered outside the Nassau County Court House early yesterday and filled the court room. IVAW member and defendant, Mathis Chiroux spoke to reporters before the arraignment, “We the Hempstead 15 are out here today to be arraigned for disorderly conduct. We are moving to dismiss. We were assembling October 15 to force the issue that service members and veterans are not being heard or cared for by the leaders of our country. We were responded to by the candidates by being ignored. In fact, we were brutalized and arrested by the Nassau County Police Department before also being charged.”


Outside Nassau County Court House (photo by Bill Perry)

Each of the defendants pled not-guilty to the charges. In what they and their lawyer, Jonathan Moore, describe as a “divide and conquer” tactic, the judge ordered separate court dates be held thus preventing them from being co-defendants.

After the arraignment, Moore declared “What happened in court today was basically nothing except an attempt by the district attorney to separate people into smaller groups so that there wouldn’t be the same appearance of a large crowd at the next court date. I don’t know why cities and states and counties are so afraid of people engaging in lawful political protest. To the extent that there was a hazardous condition created, it was created by the police not by the individuals who were simply engaging in protected first amendment speech. Some people were seriously injured by the use of these horses in a reckless and dangerous way.”

Nick Morgan thanking the crowd for their support added “You know I hope a lot of you especially from around this area are as appalled as I am about the actions of the Nassau County Police Department and the gross violations of the constitution that all of us veterans swore to protect and uphold against all enemies foreign and domestic.”

Mathis Chiroux vowed to fight until their names are cleared and justice is served. “Today, make no mistake about it. Nassau County has added insult to injury. But, I am grateful and thankful and I am overwhelmingly happy to report that every single member of the Hempstead 15 pled not guilty today. And, we are going to fight this thing out. This is unacceptable,” he said.


Mathis Chiroux speaks to reporters (photo by Bill Perry)

Chiroux continued “We cannot be brutalized and silenced and told that we don’t have the right to oppose those who would take away our rights and literally trampling everything that it is to be American. Condemn, condemn the Nassau County Police Department for their trampling of Nick and others and as well their sneaky backdoor maneuvering to try and have us all tried on separate days to keep you from coming out and having your voices heard in our support. We are going to continue forcing this issue and we are not going to stop until the names of every single one of the Hempstead 15 are cleared and Nick Morgan sees justice.”


Co-Defendants Jose Vasquez & Kris Goldsmith (photo by Bill Perry)

According to Newsday.com, police spokesman, Det. Sgt. Anthony Repalone, claimed that officers showed restraint in handling the protest, but they are reviewing the incident.

IVAW is raising funds to assist in Nick Morgan’s medical expenses. Readers can donate at IVAW.org. For video of yesterday’s events visit Adam Kokesh Revolutionary Patriot.

Vietnam veteran and Veterans for Peace member, Bill Perry, contributed to this report

 

 

Meet the Protester who ‘May Have Received a Minor Injury’ at the Hofstra Debate

Originally posted at OpEdNews.com
Wednesday night Americans waited for presidential candidates, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, to take the stage at Hofstra University for the final debate before the elections. Outside the debate “15 protesters” were arrested. Oh, and “one person may have received a minor injury.” That according to the Associated Press.

Iraq War Vet Nick Morgan (photo by Bill Perry)

This is Nick’s fractured face after being trampled by mounted police at Wednesday’s peaceful protest.

After receiving this picture from friend, Bill Perry, a Vietnam vet and service officer who gives his time helping veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, I did a quick news search to find out more.

Democracy Now! was on it as were several Indy and alternative news sites including OpEdNews. Associated Press put out a brief release with the “one person may have received a minor injury” line, but then again their job is to make other news orgs aware of a story and in turn they can do the follow-up. Apparently, it was of little interest to most mainstream media that 10 of the 15 arrested were veterans most of whom served at least one tour in Iraq. Everyone of them repeated the “may have received a minor injury” statement making no effort to report the facts.

There were some media outlets that reported the arrests of protesters  at the debate, but few were inclined to mention that they were veterans. At most, they said the protesters “identified themselves as Iraq war veterans.” A rather dismissive remark and certainly not a hard thing for a veteran journalist to confirm.

How might the public have responded if the headlines read “10 Iraq Veterans Arrested Outside Obama – McCain Debate.” With great interest, I am sure. What if those “journalists” explained why these veterans were protesting? If they asked they might have received a response like this:

“Neither of the candidates has shown real support for service members and veterans. We came here to try and have serious questions answered, questions that we as veterans of the Iraq war have a right to ask, but instead we were arrested. We will continue to ask these questions no matter who is elected. We believe that the time has come to end this war and bring our troops home, and we will be pushing for that no matter what happens in this election.” said Jason Lemieux, a former Sergeant in the US Marine Corps who served three tours in Iraq, and member of IVAW.

What if the American people learned from the mainstream media that there is a growing movement of Iraq veterans who are angry about the poor services they are receiving after risking life and limb in an illegal war?

What if this morning Americans pulled up to that kitchen table that the candidates love to talk about and unfolded their paper to find this image on the front page?


Hempstead or Baghdad? (photo by Bill Perry)

This is Nick being comforted by a buddy after literally having his face broken because he wants the world and the candidates to know the Iraq war needs to end now. Because he wants them to know that veterans are not receiving the necessary care that they deserve and were promised. Because he wants to know what the candidates are going to do about it.

I have faith in the American people. I believe that a lot of those people sitting at their kitchen table would have reached for the phone to ask their members of Congress why they were looking at an image of a wounded soldier bleeding on a sidewalk in Hempstead, New York in a picture that looks like it came from the streets of Baghdad, Iraq.

The politicians and pundits love to praise our veterans for protecting our way of life and ensuring our liberties. This week Nick and his fellow Iraq veterans sought to exercise those rights. They paid the price. As usual, the mainstream media looked the other way.

Ten veterans were arrested during the action, including Matthis Chiroux (Army Sergeant), Kristofer Goldsmith (Army Sergeant), Adam Kokesh (Marine Sergeant), Mike Spinato, Geoff Millard (Army Sergeant), Marlisa Grogan (Marine Captain), Nathan Peld (Navy, 1998-2004), Nick Morgan (Army Sergeant), James Gilligan (Marine Corps, 6 years) and Jose Vasquez (Army & Army Reserves, 1992-2007).

Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) was founded in July of 2004 to allow servicemen and women from all branches of the military a chance to come together and speak out against an illegal, unjust and unwinnable occupation. IVAW currently has over 1,300 members in 49 states, Canada and on military bases in the United States and overseas. To learn more about IVAW you can visit their website at http://ivaw.org/.

 

 

The Democratic Majority: Enabling a Rogue Presidency and Stonewalling the American People

Tomorrow, Rep. Conyers will hold a hearing entitled, “Executive Power and its Constitutional Limitations.” This article is a reprint from March 2008. It illustrates Conyers’ impeachment rhetoric since ’06 and details the failed attempts at accountability by the Democratic majority of the Bush/Cheney crimes. Let them know our country deserves better.

 

Lawless. Imperial. Rogue.

These labels have been attached to the Bush administration for the last three Take Back America (TBA) conferences. The annual conference hosted by the Campaign for America’s Future, does a bang up job each year highlighting the dark deeds of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. And, what better man for the job than House Judiciary Chair John Conyers. Turns out, the better man for the job may be the pre-House Judiciary Chair John Conyers.

TBA 2006: Challenging Lawlessness

In June 2006, Congressman Conyers was on fire at the TBA session “Challenging a Lawless President.” Still in the House minority, the great congressman from Michigan was hot on the trail of a lawless President Bush and his unbridled sidekick, Vice President Cheney.

Six months earlier, the congressman issued a report declaring, “We have found that there is substantial evidence the president, the vice-president and other high ranking members of the Bush administration misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq; misstated and manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for such war; countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq; and permitted inappropriate retaliation against critics of their administration.”

Just before the conference, Representative Nancy Pelosi fearful of emboldening the Republicans during a critical election season, declared impeachment to be “off the table.” But when Representative Conyers approached the podium, he brought the TBA participants to their feet as he announced his next course of action. In brief, he introduced a resolution (H. Res. 635) that would create a select committee with subpoena authority to investigate the misconduct of the Bush administration with regard to the Iraq war and report on possible impeachable offenses.

Inspired and hopeful, progressives hit the streets to help the Democrats take back the House and restore order in the government.

By August, Mr. Conyers had released the final version of the “Constitution in Crisis.” He described the report as “some 350 pages in length and is supported by more than 1,400 footnotes, compiles the accumulated evidence that the Bush administration has thumbed its nose at our nation’s laws, and the Constitution itself. Approximately 26 laws and regulations may have been violated by this administration’s conduct.” Certainly enough to begin impeachment hearings when one considers President Nixon’s were prompted by a simple burglary.

Mr. Conyers went on to say that “The administration also appears to have used the war on terror as an excuse to eviscerate the basic protections afforded to us in the Constitution. There have been warrantless wiretaps of law-abiding Americans, in clear contravention of federal law, not to mention the creation of a huge unchecked database on the phone records of innocent Americans.”

He lamented that “All the while, the Republican Congress sits idly by. Rather than performing its constitutional duty as a coequal branch. It has chosen to stymie any and all efforts at oversight. After six long years of deception, attacks and yes, outright lies, I am convinced the American people have had enough.”

Indeed the American people had had enough and three months later they handed the Democrats both the House and the Senate.

TBA 2007: Curbing Imperialism

Fast forward to June 2007, when the Take Back America crowd descended once again on the Washington Hilton. This time Congressman Conyers was to discuss Curbing an Imperial Presidency.” Senior staff member to John Conyers, Burt Wides, delivered a prepared speech while the congressman tended to business on the Hill.

“Since the last election we have begun to shrink Bush’s imperial presidency,” Wides read. In what manner the “imperial presidency” was shrinking remained unclear. “President Bush has subverted the checks and balances that are the cornerstone of our freedoms. In most instances, the Republican Congress just went along with those abuses. The founding fathers must be spinning in their graves, not merely at Bush’s blatant erosion of their system, but also and perhaps more at Congress’ supine failure to protect the Constitution. Now that Democrats control Congress, we have a very clear and heavy responsibility to take back the Constitution.”

It wasn’t enough that the American people elected a Democratic majority that promised to rein in Bush and Cheney and hold them accountable. They were now charged with a new task. These efforts, according to Conyers, would only succeed with support of citizen groups committed to the Constitution. These groups had already been popping up across the country for years. Many were part of a broad coalition that makes up the organization AfterDowningStreet.org.  

 

AfterDowningStreet, led by activist David Swanson, sprang to life in May 2005 to pressure both Congress and the media to investigate whether President Bush had committed impeachable offenses. The coalition borrowed its name from the incriminating Downing Street Memos that emerged in May and June of 2005.

Despite the subject matter, impeachment was never offered as a viable solution to “curbing the imperial presidency” by the TBA panelists. It was, however, on the minds of the audience and questions on impeachment dominated the Q&A session.

After all questions on impeachment were shot down by the panelists, Bob Fertik of Democrats.com addressed the panel. To a cheering audience, Fertik asserted “I think you’re completely misreading the politics in the country. All of the polls report that the majority of Americans support impeachment hearings, a solid majority of Americans and it’s not even being discussed. The American people were way ahead of Congress on Iraq and the American people are way ahead of Congress on impeachment. It’s just time to stop with the ridiculous excuses. The American people know the only way to hold Bush accountable is through impeachment.”

Grassroots Action

Determined to restore the Constitution and rule of law, groups made up of ordinary citizens, veterans, and constitutional experts forged ahead on their own. John Conyers had called for this and the people responded. Five weeks later, on July 23, an impeachment petition containing more than one million signatures was delivered directly to the congressman. When he told the participants that there were “not enough votes for” impeachment, a peaceful sit-in was held in his office. The group was promptly arrested and hauled off to be processed.

The following month, Congressman Conyers traveled to Newark, New Jersey to promote his national health care bill, H.R. 676 at the People’s March for Peace, Equality, Jobs and Justice. He found himself facing a diverse crowd of a few thousand calling for impeachment. The article, Dancing With Conyers, describes what happened next.

“In what has become routine now, Conyers fed into the momentum asking ‘What should we do?’ ‘Impeach!’ cried the crowd. ‘What should we do?’ ‘Impeach’ and so it was repeated. The congressman went on to declare that we needed to bring back Rumsfeld and put him on trial and the big question was to decide who ought to go first.‘Cheney!’ shouted the crowd enthusiastically.”

To settle the crowd, Conyers offered to meet with activists afterwards. Leaders from the New Jersey Impeach Groups asked the congressman to initiate impeachment hearings. They were told to “work hard” and get one representative from New Jersey to sign onto Representative Kucinich’s resolution (H. Res. 333) to impeach Vice President Cheney. They explained that Congressman Donald Payne, who was on his way to the rally, had signed on a few weeks earlier.

The chair of the House Judiciary Committee grew solemn telling the group the risk of failing was too great. It was too risky to use powers granted by the Constitution to remove a few rogue leaders regardless of the consequences of not removing them. This type of exchange was becoming familiar to activists. A few weeks earlier at a meeting with progressive democrats in San Diego, Conyers told the group to get just three more members of Congress to back impeachment. At the time, there were 14 sponsors. Since the offer, 13 more members of Congress cosponsored H. Res. 333 with no movement within the House Judiciary Committee.

During the summer of 2007, Congressman Conyers crisscrossed the country. At every turn he was met with citizens who implored him to move on impeachment. In response, he coined a new phrase. At an August 28 town hall meeting in his home district in Michigan, constituents clamored for impeachment. Conyers announced, “Nancy Pelosi has impeachment ‘off the table,’ but that’s off her table, it is not off John Conyers’ table.” The crowd erupted in applause.The same day in a telephone interview, the congressman discussed impeachment with journalist Amy Goodman. From the Democracy Now website:

‘”I’ve got the constitution in one hand and a calculator in the other,” House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D–MI) said today on Democracy Now! when asked about the possibility of impeachment. Conyers said hearings could “make the record clear that there has been a great deal of violation of the sworn oath of office, abuses of power…but there isn’t the time for it.’ He also said he doesn’t think there are enough votes in the House and Senate to support impeachment.’

Clearly, rogue administrations aren’t the only ones adept at stonewalling.

Failed Strategies

Members of Congress have inexplicably chosen not to harness their duly granted powers to take on a criminal administration. Instead, they cling to previously failed efforts.

The Letters

A very small sampling finds letters about “fixed” intelligence, letters spanning two years from John Conyers to Fred Fielding requesting information and documents concerning warrantless wiretapping, and a letter from John Conyers to President Bush requesting the release of the Hadley memo related to claims of uranium from Africa and the “16 words.”

There were several letters regarding the president’s signing statements including one from Senator Dick Durbin requesting confirmation from President Bush that he would indeed enforce legislation that was just enacted. Two years ago, Senator Leahy sent a letter to the president urging him to “cease and desist” from his unconstitutional use of presidential signing statements. GOP Senator Susan Collins sent President Bush a letter about opening letters.

 

The chair of the House Oversight Committee, Henry Waxman, sent letters to Fred Fielding on the mystery of the missing White House e-mails. Recently, there was a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey from 46 House Democrats asking how he will ensure the President follows Congress’ ban on permanent bases in Iraq. Congress is now relegated to asking an uncooperative Attorney General to make sure the President takes care that the laws be faithfully executed.

The Subpoenas

When a few years of polite inquiries fail to produce results, Congress moves onto subpoenas. When used within the context of a healthy government, subpoenas prove to be quite effective. Why Democrats think that an overreaching, unaccountable administration would readily respond or cooperate fully is mind boggling.

Last April, House Democrats issued five subpoenas in a single morning related to the U.S. attorney firings, the use of RNC email accounts, and the claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program. According to the Washington Post, “The White House signaled that it will continue to resist efforts to secure testimony from Rice, Rove and other aides.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that she was “not inclined” to appear. To date, none of these issues have been resolved to the satisfaction of the House Democrats.

Contempt

In February, eight months after issuing subpoenas to Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten, the House moved to initiate civil contempt proceedings. John Bresnahan of Politico.com reported, “Pelosi noted that Conyers had sent nine different letters to current White House Counsel Fred Fielding seeking a compromise that would allow Bolten and Miers to appear, but Fielding refused to allow either aide, or former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, to testify in public or under oath.”

 

Two weeks later, the Attorney General wrote a letter to Pelosi stating he would not refer congressional contempt citations to a grand jury or take any other action on the matter.

The Lawsuits

When all else fails, take ‘em to court. In 2006, John Conyers announced he was “Taking the President to Court. After a battle over a Republican budget bill, the president despite being warned by Democrats, signed a Senate version that Democrats claimed had not been passed by the House. The purpose of the lawsuit? To seek confirmation from the court that a bill not passed by the House and Senate is not a law. The lawsuit never made it to court. Perhaps he never sung along with School House Rock.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last May that she would sue the President if he attached a signing statement to Congress’s Iraq funding bill. Of course, a simple and effective solution would be for the House Speaker to turn to Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution then quickly drop down to Section 4. [Note: There is no clause about the 2008 elections, time left or predetermining votes.]

 

This month after Mukasey refused to enforce Congressional subpoenas, House Democrats filed a lawsuit against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers. And thus, the cycle continues.

New Legislation

In response to the Bush administration’s assertion that it did not require congressional approval for establishing any long-term security agreement with Iraq, the Congressional Progressive Caucus announced they were introducing new legislation to combat the situation. The legislation seeks to “reassert the constitutional powers of Congress in the shaping and conduct of U.S. foreign policy.”

A move like this is not without inherent risk. If the legislation fails to pass, it can serve to bolster the administration’s arguments. If it does pass, we’re right back to the signing statement which is what brought this whole issue out in the open in the first place. If Congress starts making a habit of creating new legislation to reinforce already established laws the country is headed down another dangerous path.

With a Heavy Heart

Whether a principled response to the administration’s lack of cooperation with Congress or a growing concern that a Democratic President might be equally uncooperative, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), railed against the Bush administration last month. Rohrabacher whose aggressive support of rendition and lack of compassion for Iraqi refugees has upset many, has spoken out strongly against the administration for its “contemptuous disregard for Congress.”

 

In a lengthy speech the Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said, I have come to the sad conclusion that this administration has intentionally obstructed Congress’ rightful and constitutional duties.” Rohrabacher offers “When I hear my friends on the other side of the aisle accusing this administration of stonewalling, of coverups, or thwarting investigations, I sadly must concur with them.” He concludes, “We should not be setting precedents that the President of the United States has the lion’s share of the power in this great democracy of ours.” Are you listening, Nancy?

The Pelosi Factor

“I have said it before and I will say it again: Impeachment is off the table.”

When all efforts to effect checks and balances are thwarted and there is no other recourse to restore order in an administration gone wild, taking impeachment “off the table” really boils down to a matter of obstruction of justice. This begs the question why would the House Speaker obstruct justice?

Rarely discussed in the corporate media since initial reports is the fact that two of the most abhorrent impeachable offenses in the eyes of the American people were disclosed to Nancy Pelosi several years before they went public.

As the Washington Post reported late last year, in September 2002, along with three other members of Congress, Nancy Pelosi was briefed on “overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk. Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was water boarding.” The Washington Post reported that Pelosi did not raise any objections at the time.

In a 2006 oped, Nancy Pelosi remarked that the president’s admission that he authorized the electronic surveillance on Americans is a “wake-up call for intensive congressional oversight of intelligence activities.” With no expression of constitutional responsibility, she acknowledges that she, herself, had been informed of the president’s authorization. She went on to excuse herself by stating “But when the administration notifies Congress in this manner, it is not seeking approval.”

 

Former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, raises another unsettling question. According to the former head of Qwest Communications, the NSA sought assistance with surveillance in February 2001, challenging the repeated claim that 9/11 “changed everything.” The question then, isWhat Did Pelosi Know about NSA, and When Did She Know It?

An Impeachment Groundswell

Despite the lack of cooperation from the Congress, the movement to impeach continues to gain traction in communities throughout the country.

According to AfterDowningStreet.org, impeachment resolutions have passed in Vermont’s state legislature (introduced in 11 other states), 26 statewide and national political committees, 19 state legislative districts, 91 cities, towns and counties, 54 local political groups/parties/jurisdictions, and several unions, seven ACLU chapters, with dozens more pending or in the works. Organizations well versed in constitutional law like the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights have also called for impeachment.

In addition, indictment resolutions against the president and vice president have been introduced in three jurisdictions including Kennebunkport, Maine, summer home of the Bush family. In Brattleboro, Vermont, the votes were cast and the president and vice President may be wise not to tread on that town any time soon.

These actions stand in stark contrast with John Conyers’ assertion in his prepared speech at last year’s Take Back America conference that “Too many Americans, however, feel that Bush’s assault on civil liberties are not really their concern.”

Congressional Rebuffs

Refusal by many members of Congress to support impeachment has little to do with whether or not they believe serious offenses have been committed as evidenced by letters to constituents.

 

Steve Rothman (D-NJ) is “outraged” over the president’s “overreaching intelligence gathering measures” and for “misleading the American people about the basis for going to war in Iraq.” He’s just not sure there is enough evidence. Perhaps John Conyers can lend him a copy of the “Constitution in Crisis.”

Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA) wrote “we have witnessed our government ignore the freedoms established in the Constitution on countless occasions and flaunted national security as justification.” While Sestak lays out numerous “egregious” abuses that “strike at the heart of our democracy,” he contends that congressional oversight will do the trick. One after another, members of Congress outline assaults on the Constitution by the president and vice president, but choose to ride out the next 10 months with little regard to the consequences.

Jerrold Nadler, chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution has, in essence, altered the Constitution by ruling out impeachment as a viable tool for this and future administrations. By doing so, he opens the door to certain abuse of power. Impeachment, he says, “Doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because essentially the framers of the Constitution did not foresee political parties.” It’s a wonder George Mason, himself, hasn’t risen up to demand that Nadler step down from his chairmanship.

“No point,” said Mason, “is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued.”Upholding the Oath

Conservative Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer who served as associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan had a message for the Democratic leadership in a radio interview with Rob Kall of OpEdNews.com.

“It is quite clear,” Fein remarked, “that they will not move because they think collectively that it will not be advantageous politically for the Democratic Party. I have retorted, you have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States which includes the impeachment clause.”

His voice rising, he stressed “That’s the only oath that you have taken. You have taken not an oath to support the Democratic Party. You’ve not taken an oath to support your political ambitions. The only unflagging obligation that you have is to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. You are violating your oath when the reason for not going forward is not because they are not impeachable offenses, but you make a political calculation that it wouldn’t be healthy for your party – even if it would be healthy for the government of the United States and for the American people.”

When Kall commented that some worried that impeachment proceedings would hurt the candidates, Fein was even more blunt than before. “I think that is nauseating. When you think about all the risks that the founding fathers took, death, their fortunes, [ . . . ] and these people say ‘yea there are impeachable offenses, but if we have to choose between the Constitution which so many have died to preserve and our party’s gains at the next election so let’s throw the Constitution out the window’ – that is nauseating. That kind of attitude would have left us a colony of Great Britain and it’s not American.”

Congressional Courage

There are members of Congress who are undeterred by the Democratic leadership stance. In April 2007, Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced House Resolution 333 that, if passed, would impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. Each time an old offense was exposed or a new one committed, representatives would add their support.

 

In November 2007, when public pressure failed to move the resolution out of the House Judiciary where it languished, Kucinich introduced a privileged resolution to force a vote. After an afternoon of partisan politicking, the resolution landed back in the House Judiciary Committee with a new title, H. Res. 799. To date, there are 27 sponsors of H. Res. 799. Six of the 27 also serve on the House Judiciary Committee.

Moved by pressure from his constituents and a strong allegiance to the Constitution, Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) rose up to lead the charge for impeachment hearings. In December, he authored an oped “A Case for Hearings” along with Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) also members of the House Judiciary Committee.

 

In addition, he setup the website WexlerWantsHearings.com where he asked the public to lend their support. His long-term goal was 50,000 online signatures. Within the first 24 hours, 30,000 Americans had added their names. Currently, there are more than 233,000 supporters.Wexler, along with 19 House members – five on the House Judiciary Committee – have written to chairman John Conyers urging support for impeachment hearings. In a New Year’s Eve post, The Nation named Robert Wexler, “The Most Valuable Congressman” stating, “If he keeps this up in 2008, Wexler could yet force the House to be what the founders intended: a check and balance on executive lawlessness.”

TBA 2008: The Republic Against the Rogue Presidency

Based on the reports from last week’s Take Back America conference, it appears that John Conyers has turned back the clock two years. It’s all about winning the elections.

One blogger writes that the reason Conyers gave for not pursuing impeachment now is that “it would jeopardize the chance of a young, excellent man running for the White House,” referring to Senator Barack Obama. Sam Stein reports that “Conyers offered a strong suggestion that he intends to consider legal action against Bush and Company once they leave office.” Stein quotes Conyers as saying “We can win this thing and go get these guys after [they leave office].”

Conyers, like Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), offered that if Bush attacks Iran he should be impeached. It is disturbing to watch seasoned leaders, who have already witnessed this president wage a war on a country preemptively and on false pretenses, decide to “wait and see” rather than preventing more carngage by removing the rogue president for crimes already committed.

Activist David Swanson pulls no punches, “The congress that we elected in 2006 to end the occupation and hold Bush and Cheney accountable immediately decided to pretend to attempt to do its job for two years in hopes of winning more seats in 2008 by opposing the occupation and Bush and Cheney.”

“That this would mean hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, two years off the clock on global warming, our nation and others in ever greater danger of attack, and the continued erosion of our rights – these things didn’t faze Reid or Pelosi,” charged the activist. “The pretenses they’ve put up have included hearings, letters, subpoenas, contempt citations, and bills recriminalizing already illegal and unconstitutional actions. They’ve also pretended to try to pass all sorts of other legislation, such as a children’s health care bill, knowing full well that they would be vetoed or signing statemented. It’s a two-year election campaign at taxpayer expense.”

Regarding impeachment and the elections, Swanson contends “Forcing John McCain to choose between the Constitution and the least popular president and vice president ever would be a gold mine immediately apparent to any entity capable of playing offense. The Democratic Party only plays defense.”

Conyers and Nixon

Congressman Conyers might well be served, and the nation in turn, by recalling his 1974 article published in The Black Scholar entitled “Why Nixon Should Have Been Impeached.”

The 45-year-old Conyers wrote, “In calling him to account, we also reestablish the proper parameters of presidential conduct. It is essential, therefore, that the record of our inquiry be complete so that no future president may infer that we have implicitly sanctioned what we have not explicitly condemned.”

He closed by remarking, “Impeachment is difficult and it is painful, but the courage to do what must be done is the price of remaining free.”

 

 

 

Seven Republican Members of the House Judiciary Call for Impeachment out of Duty to the Constitution?

 

GOP Reps. Smith, Sensenbrenner, Coble, Gallegly, Goodlatte, Chabot, and Cannon after much deliberation put the Constitution and rule of law before politics. Rep. Lamar Smith stated, “As much as one might wish to avoid this process, we must resist the temptation to close our eyes and pass by. The president’s actions must be evaluated for one simple reason: the truth counts.”

Please read entire article for context. Short on time? Skim ’til the end.

Hon. Lamar Smith (TX) Phone 202-225-4236 . Fax: 202-225-8628

We should not underestimate the gravity of the case against the president. When he put his hand on the Bible and recited his oath of office, he swore to faithfully uphold the laws of the United States – not some laws, all laws.

 

 

 

 

As to the uniqueness of the office the president holds, he is a person in a position of immense authority and influence. He influences the lives of millions of Americans. When he took the oath of office, he swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. 

When someone is elected president, they receive the greatest gift possible from the American people, their trust. To violate that trust is to raise questions about fitness for office. My constituents often remind me that if anyone else in a position of authority – for example, a business executive, a military officer of a professional educator – had acted as the evidence indicates the president did, their career would be over. The rules under which President Nixon would have been tried for impeachment had he not resigned contain this statement: “The office of the president is such that it calls for a higher level of conduct than the average citizen in the United States.”

 

This will not be an easy task. In fact, it is a difficult ordeal for all Americans, but we will get through it. We are a great nation and a strong people. Our country will endure because our Constitution works and has worked for over 200 years. As much as one might wish to avoid this process, we must resist the temptation to close our eyes and pass by. The president’s actions must be evaluated for one simple reason: the truth counts.

 

As the process goes forward, some good lessons can be reaffirmed. No one is above the law, actions have consequences, always tell the truth. We the people should insist on these high ideals. That the president has fallen short of the standard doesn’t mean we should lower it. If we keep excusing away the president’s actions we as a nation will never climb upwards because there will be no firm rungs.

 

Hon. James Sensenbrenner (WI) Phone (202) 225-5101

 

…being a poor example isn’t grounds for impeachment; undermining the rule of law is.

 

When Americans come to Washington, they see the words “equal justice under law” carved in the facade of the Supreme Court building. Those words mean that the weak and the poor have an equal right to justice, as do the rich and the powerful.

 

The framers of the Constitution devised an elaborate system of checks and balances to ensure our liberty by making sure that no person, institution or branch of government became so powerful that a tyranny could be established in the United States of America. Impeachment is one of the checks the framers gave the Congress to prevent the executive or judicial branches from becoming corrupt or tyrannical.

 

I do so with no joy but without apologies, just as those on this committee who voted to impeach President Nixon, 24 years ago, did. Watergate and the Nixon impeachment reversed the results of an overwhelming election and were extremely divisive to our country, but America emerged from that national nightmare a much stronger country and will do so again after this sad part of our history is over. What is on trial here is the truth and the rule of law.

 

Hon. Howard Coble (NC) Phone (202) 225-3065 . Fax: (202) 225-8611

Much has been made about the absence of bipartisanship on this issue, and I want to reiterate my position on that. Do not point accusatory fingers at Republicans or Democrats because there is disagreement. Assuming we vote our consciences and exercise sound judgment, little else can be asked.
…I take umbrage to charges that some are out to get the president…I take umbrage as well to those who claim that some approach this arduous task in a gleeful manner. I take no joy in discharging this duty before us, but it remains our duty nonetheless.
…I can’t see that this is going to shut down the government or tie it up, assuming it does advance to the Senate.
Hon. Elton Gallegly (CA) Phone (202) 225-5811 . Fax (202) 225-1100

This has been a very trying time. In a democracy, there are few more serious acts than to consider the possible impeachment of a president. I can tell you in true conscience it has caused me many sleepless nights.
I wanted to hear the evidence that would prove the charges were false. I believed that was the only fair way to proceed, and it was also my solemn constitutional duty and immense responsibility. I waited, I read, and I listened.
Mr. Chairman, I’m not a lawyer — one of the few on this committee — however, everyone that knows me knows I believe in the rule of law — believe the rule of law is fundamental to our society. A society without laws is anarchy. Societies that ignore the laws are condemned to violence and chaos.
That bothers me. My district is considered among the safest communities in the nation. We have fine police officers, which certainly helps, but every officer from the chief to the beat officer will tell you a low crime rate begins with citizens who obey the law. Every citizen must obey the law, every law.

He violated the Constitution. To condone this would be to condemn our society to anarchy. Mr. Chairman, I cannot and will not condone such action.

 

Hon. Bob Goodlatte (VA) Phone (202) 225-5431 . Fax (202) 225-9681

Mr. Chairman, this is a somber occasion. I am here because it is my constitutional duty, as it is the constitutional duty of every member of this committee, to follow the truth wherever it may lead. Our Founding Fathers established this nation on a fundamental yet at the time untested idea that a nation should be governed not by the whims of any man but by the rule of law. Implicit in that idea is the principle that no one is above the law, including the chief executive
Since it is the rule of law that guides us, we must ask ourselves what happens to our nation if the rule of law is ignored, cheapened or violated, especially at the highest level of government. Consider the words of former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who was particularly insightful on this point. “In a government of laws, the existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. If government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law. It invites every man to become a law unto himself.”
Mr. Chairman, we must ask ourselves what our failure to uphold the rule of law will say to the nation, and most especially to our children, who must trust us to leave them a civilized nation where justice is respected.
If we truly respect the presidency, we cannot allow the president to be above the law. Millions of law-abiding Americans from all walks of life, including my constituents, put in an honest day’s work, follow the rules and struggle to teach their children respect for the law and the importance of integrity. When a factory worker or a medical doctor or a retiree breaks the law, they do so with the knowledge that they are not above the law.

 

This same principle must also apply to the most powerful and privileged in our nation, including the president of the United States. To lose this principle devastates a legacy entrusted to us by our founding fathers and protected for us by generations of American families.

 

I have a constitutional duty to follow the truth wherever it leads. The truth in this case leads me to believe that the president knowingly engaged in a calculated pattern of lies, deceit and delay in order to mislead the American people…

 

The precious legacy entrusted to us by our founders and our constituents is a nation dedicated to the ideal of freedom and equality for all her people. This committee must decide whether we will maintain our commitment to the rule of law and pass this precious legacy to our children and grandchildren, or whether we will bow to the political pressure for the sake of convenience or expediency.

 
 (OH) Phone (202) 225-2216 (202) 225-3012

 

Thank you. Mr. Chairman, every member of our committee recognizes that this is likely the most important vote we will ever cast, and all of us would prefer that the president’s actions had not led us down this fateful path. However, we have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution and we must fully accept that responsibility.
Back in 1974, Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, who served on the judiciary committee during Watergate, said that she would vote to impeach President Nixon, in part, because — and I quote — “the presidential cover-up is continuing even through today.”
The historic record, the law, and the Constitution tell us that the charges against the president do indeed rise to the level of impeachable offenses. They constitute serious violations of criminal law and fall squarely within our Founding Fathers’ definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Mr. Chairman, impeaching the president is an extremely serious matter. Throughout these proceedings, I’ve tried to keep an open mind, giving the president every opportunity to refute the facts that have been laid before our committee, but now all of the evidence is in and a decision is at hand.

 

It has become apparent to me that impeachment is the only remedy that adequately addresses this president’s illegal and unethical acts. Allowing the president’s actions to go unpunished would gravely damage the Office of the President, our judicial system and our country.

 

I have not reached this decision lightly. I have done my share of soul searching, I have listened carefully to the views of my constituents, and I’ve reviewed the evidence in excruciating detail. And much of it wasn’t particularly pleasant, I can assure you. And I’ve been guided by our Constitution.

 

 

When we cast our votes, we are not voting as Republicans or Democrats, we are voting as Americans. Our allegiance does not lie with any one president but with our country. Our charge is not handed down from any one political party but from the Constitution. Every member of this body is duty-bound to put politics aside, follow our conscience, and uphold our oath of office.
Hon. Chris Cannon (UT) Phone (202) 225-7751 . Fax (202) 225-5629 We are at a defining moment in our history. What we do here will set the standard for what is acceptable for this and future presidents.

I believe profoundly that the behavior of this president is unacceptable because I agree with John Jay, one of our Founding Fathers, who said, “When oaths cease to be sacred, our dearest and most valuable rights become insecure.”

 

[Quoting President John F. Kennedy], “I think you gentlemen should recognize the responsibility of the president of the United States. His responsibility is different from what your responsibility may be. In this country, I carry out and execute the laws of the United States. I also have the obligation of implementing the orders of the courts of the United States. And I can assure you that who’s ever president of the United States, he will do the same, because if he did not, he would begin to unwind this most extraordinary constitutional system of ours. So I believe strongly in fulfilling my oath in that regard.” And that regard means if he didn’t fulfill his oath, the system would begin to unwind. It’s inexorable.

 

I submit that in the spirit of our Founding Fathers and John F. Kennedy, that our first duty is to provide for the security of the fundamental rights of Americans.

 

To properly perform that duty, we must vote to impeach the president. Thank you.

 

 

The statements above are excerpts from transcripts of the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearings. December 10-11, 1998. Each congressman is a current member of the House Judiciary Committee.
 
 
 

 

 

 

The Democratic Majority: Enabling a Rogue Presidency and Stonewalling the American People

Lawless. Imperial. Rogue.

These labels have been attached to the Bush administration for the last three Take Back America (TBA) conferences. The annual conference hosted by the Campaign for America’s Future, does a bang up job each year highlighting the dark deeds of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. And, what better man for the job than House Judiciary Chair John Conyers. Turns out, the better man for the job may be the pre-House Judiciary Chair John Conyers.

TBA 2006: Challenging Lawlessness

In June 2006, Congressman Conyers was on fire at the TBA session “Challenging a Lawless President.” Still in the House minority, the great congressman from Michigan was hot on the trail of a lawless President Bush and his unbridled sidekick, Vice President Cheney.

Six months earlier, the congressman issued a report declaring, “We have found that there is substantial evidence the president, the vice-president and other high ranking members of the Bush administration misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq; misstated and manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for such war; countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq; and permitted inappropriate retaliation against critics of their administration.”

Just before the conference, Representative Nancy Pelosi fearful of emboldening the Republicans during a critical election season, declared impeachment to be “off the table.” But when Representative Conyers approached the podium, he brought the TBA participants to their feet as he announced his next course of action. In brief, he introduced a resolution (H. Res. 635) that would create a select committee with subpoena authority to investigate the misconduct of the Bush administration with regard to the Iraq war and report on possible impeachable offenses. Inspired and hopeful, progressives hit the streets to help the Democrats take back the House and restore order in the government.

By August, Mr. Conyers had released the final version of the “Constitution in Crisis.” He described the report as “some 350 pages in length and is supported by more than 1,400 footnotes, compiles the accumulated evidence that the Bush administration has thumbed its nose at our nation’s laws, and the Constitution itself. Approximately 26 laws and regulations may have been violated by this administration’s conduct.” Certainly enough to begin impeachment hearings when one considers President Nixon’s were prompted by a simple burglary.

Mr. Conyers went on to say that “The administration also appears to have used the war on terror as an excuse to eviscerate the basic protections afforded to us in the Constitution. There have been warrantless wiretaps of law-abiding Americans, in clear contravention of federal law, not to mention the creation of a huge unchecked database on the phone records of innocent Americans.”

He lamented that “All the while, the Republican Congress sits idly by. Rather than performing its constitutional duty as a coequal branch. It has chosen to stymie any and all efforts at oversight. After six long years of deception, attacks and yes, outright lies, I am convinced the American people have had enough.”

Indeed the American people had had enough and three months later they handed the Democrats both the House and the Senate.

TBA 2007: Curbing Imperialism

Fast forward to June 2007, when the Take Back America crowd descended once again on the Washington Hilton. This time Congressman Conyers was to discuss Curbing an Imperial Presidency.” Senior staff member to John Conyers, Burt Wides, delivered a prepared speech while the congressman tended to business on the Hill. “Since the last election we have begun to shrink Bush’s imperial presidency,” Wides read. In what manner the “imperial presidency” was shrinking remained unclear.

“President Bush has subverted the checks and balances that are the cornerstone of our freedoms. In most instances, the Republican Congress just went along with those abuses. The founding fathers must be spinning in their graves, not merely at Bush’s blatant erosion of their system, but also and perhaps more at Congress’ supine failure to protect the Constitution. Now that Democrats control Congress, we have a very clear and heavy responsibility to take back the Constitution.”

It wasn’t enough that the American people elected a Democratic majority that promised to rein in Bush and Cheney and hold them accountable. They were now charged with a new task. These efforts, according to Conyers, would only succeed with support of citizen groups committed to the Constitution. These groups had already been popping up across the country for years. Many were part of a broad coalition that makes up the organization AfterDowningStreet.org.  

AfterDowningStreet, led by activist David Swanson, sprang to life in May 2005 to pressure both Congress and the media to investigate whether President Bush had committed impeachable offenses. The coalition borrowed its name from the incriminating Downing Street Memos that emerged in May and June of 2005.

Despite the subject matter, impeachment was never offered as a viable solution to “curbing the imperial presidency” by the TBA panelists. It was, however, on the minds of the audience and questions on impeachment dominated the Q&A session.

After all questions on impeachment were shot down by the panelists, Bob Fertik of Democrats.com addressed the panel. To a cheering audience, Fertik asserted “I think you’re completely misreading the politics in the country. All of the polls report that the majority of Americans support impeachment hearings, a solid majority of Americans and it’s not even being discussed. The American people were way ahead of Congress on Iraq and the American people are way ahead of Congress on impeachment. It’s just time to stop with the ridiculous excuses. The American people know the only way to hold Bush accountable is through impeachment.”

Grassroots Action

Determined to restore the Constitution and rule of law, groups made up of ordinary citizens, veterans, and constitutional experts forged ahead on their own. John Conyers had called for this and the people responded. Five weeks later, on July 23, an impeachment petition containing more than one million signatures was delivered directly to the congressman. When he told the participants that there were “not enough votes for” impeachment, a peaceful sit-in was held in his office. The group was promptly arrested and hauled off to be processed.

The following month, Congressman Conyers traveled to Newark, New Jersey to promote his national health care bill, H.R. 676 at the People’s March for Peace, Equality, Jobs and Justice. He found himself facing a diverse crowd of a few thousand calling for impeachment. The article, Dancing With Conyers, describes what happened next. “In what has become routine now, Conyers fed into the momentum asking ‘What should we do?’ ‘Impeach!’ cried the crowd. ‘What should we do?’ ‘Impeach’ and so it was repeated. The congressman went on to declare that we needed to bring back Rumsfeld and put him on trial and the big question was to decide who ought to go first.‘Cheney!’ shouted the crowd enthusiastically.”

To settle the crowd, Conyers offered to meet with activists afterwards. Leaders from the New Jersey Impeach Groups asked the congressman to initiate impeachment hearings. They were told to “work hard” and get one representative from New Jersey to sign onto Representative Kucinich’s resolution (H. Res. 333) to impeach Vice President Cheney. They explained that Congressman Donald Payne, who was on his way to the rally, had signed on a few weeks earlier.

The chair of the House Judiciary Committee grew solemn telling the group the risk of failing was too great. It was too risky to use powers granted by the Constitution to remove a few rogue leaders regardless of the consequences of not removing them. This type of exchange was becoming familiar to activists. A few weeks earlier at a meeting with progressive democrats in San Diego, Conyers told the group to get just three more members of Congress to back impeachment. At the time, there were 14 sponsors. Since the offer, 13 more members of Congress cosponsored H. Res. 333 with no movement within the House Judiciary Committee.

During the summer of 2007, Congressman Conyers crisscrossed the country. At every turn he was met with citizens who implored him to move on impeachment. In response, he coined a new phrase. At an August 28 town hall meeting in his home district in Michigan, constituents clamored for impeachment. Conyers announced, “Nancy Pelosi has impeachment ‘off the table,’ but that’s off her table, it is not off John Conyers’ table.” The crowd erupted in applause.

The same day in a telephone interview, the congressman discussed impeachment with journalist Amy Goodman. From the Democracy Now website:

‘”I’ve got the constitution in one hand and a calculator in the other,” House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D–MI) said today on Democracy Now! when asked about the possibility of impeachment. Conyers said hearings could “make the record clear that there has been a great deal of violation of the sworn oath of office, abuses of power…but there isn’t the time for it.’ He also said he doesn’t think there are enough votes in the House and Senate to support impeachment.’

Clearly, rogue administrations aren’t the only ones adept at stonewalling.

Failed Strategies

Members of Congress have inexplicably chosen not to harness their duly granted powers to take on a criminal administration. Instead, they cling to previously failed efforts.

The Letters

A very small sampling finds letters about fixed” intelligence, letters spanning two years from John Conyers to Fred Fielding requesting information and documents concerning warrantless wiretapping, and a letter from John Conyers to President Bush requesting the release of the Hadley memo related to claims of uranium from Africa and the “16 words.”

There were several letters regarding the president’s signing statements including one from Senator Dick Durbin requesting confirmation from President Bush that he would indeed enforce legislation that was just enacted. Two years ago, Senator Leahy sent a letter to the president urging him to “cease and desist” from his unconstitutional use of presidential signing statements. GOP Senator Susan Collins sent President Bush a letter about opening letters.

The chair of the House Oversight Committee, Henry Waxman, sent letters to Fred Fielding on the mystery of the missing White House e-mails. Recently, there was a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey from 46 House Democrats asking how he will ensure the President follows Congress’ ban on permanent bases in Iraq. Congress is now relegated to asking an uncooperative Attorney General to make sure the President takes care that the laws be faithfully executed.

The Subpoenas

When a few years of polite inquiries fail to produce results, Congress moves onto subpoenas. When used within the context of a healthy government, subpoenas prove to be quite effective. Why Democrats think that an overreaching, unaccountable administration would readily respond or cooperate fully is mind boggling.

Last April, House Democrats issued five subpoenas in a single morning related to the U.S. attorney firings, the use of RNC email accounts, and the claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program. According to the Washington Post, “The White House signaled that it will continue to resist efforts to secure testimony from Rice, Rove and other aides.”  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that she was “not inclined” to appear. To date, none of these issues have been resolved to the satisfaction of the House Democrats.  

Contempt

In February, eight months after issuing subpoenas to Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten, the House moved to initiate civil contempt proceedings. John Bresnahan of Politico.com reported, “Pelosi noted that Conyers had sent nine different letters to current White House Counsel Fred Fielding seeking a compromise that would allow Bolten and Miers to appear, but Fielding refused to allow either aide, or former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, to testify in public or under oath.”

Two weeks later, the Attorney General wrote a letter to Pelosi stating he would not refer congressional contempt citations to a grand jury or take any other action on the matter.

The Lawsuits

When all else fails, take ‘em to court. In 2006, John Conyers announced he was “Taking the President to Court. After a battle over a Republican budget bill, the president despite being warned by Democrats, signed a Senate version that Democrats claimed had not been passed by the House. The purpose of the lawsuit? To seek confirmation from the court that a bill not passed by the House and Senate is not a law. The lawsuit never made it to court. Perhaps he never sung along with School House Rock.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last May that she would sue the President if he attached a signing statement to Congress’s Iraq funding bill. Of course, a simple and effective solution would be for the House Speaker to turn to Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution then quickly drop down to Section 4. [Note: There is no clause about the 2008 elections, time left or predetermining votes.]

This month after Mukasey refused to enforce Congressional subpoenas, House Democrats filed a lawsuit against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers. And thus, the cycle continues.

New Legislation

In response to the Bush administration’s assertion that it did not require congressional approval for establishing any long-term security agreement with Iraq, the Congressional Progressive Caucus announced they were introducing new legislation to combat the situation. The legislation seeks to “reassert the constitutional powers of Congress in the shaping and conduct of U.S. foreign policy.”

A move like this is not without inherent risk. If the legislation fails to pass, it can serve to bolster the administration’s arguments. If it does pass, we’re right back to the signing statement which is what brought this whole issue out in the open in the first place. If Congress starts making a habit of creating new legislation to reinforce already established laws the country is headed down another dangerous path.

With a Heavy Heart

Whether a principled response to the administration’s lack of cooperation with Congress or a growing concern that a Democratic President might be equally uncooperative, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), railed against the Bush administration last month. Rohrabacher whose aggressive support of rendition and lack of compassion for Iraqi refugees has upset many, has spoken out strongly against the administration for its “contemptuous disregard for Congress.”

In a lengthy speech the Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said, I have come to the sad conclusion that this administration has intentionally obstructed Congress’ rightful and constitutional duties.” Rohrabacher offers “When I hear my friends on the other side of the aisle accusing this administration of stonewalling, of coverups, or thwarting investigations, I sadly must concur with them.” He concludes, “We should not be setting precedents that the President of the United States has the lion’s share of the power in this great democracy of ours.” Are you listening, Nancy?

The Pelosi Factor

“I have said it before and I will say it again: Impeachment is off the table.”

When all efforts to effect checks and balances are thwarted and there is no other recourse to restore order in an administration gone wild, taking impeachment “off the table” really boils down to a matter of obstruction of justice. This begs the question why would the House Speaker obstruct justice?

Rarely discussed in the corporate media since initial reports is the fact that two of the most abhorrent impeachable offenses in the eyes of the American people were disclosed to Nancy Pelosi several years before they went public.

As the Washington Post reported late last year, in September 2002, along with three other members of Congress, Nancy Pelosi was briefed on “overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk. Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was water boarding.” The Washington Post reported that Pelosi did not raise any objections at the time.

In a 2006 oped, Nancy Pelosi remarked that the president’s admission that he authorized the electronic surveillance on Americans is a “wake-up call for intensive congressional oversight of intelligence activities.” With no expression of constitutional responsibility, she acknowledges that she, herself, had been informed of the president’s authorization. She went on to excuse herself by stating “But when the administration notifies Congress in this manner, it is not seeking approval.”

Former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, raises another unsettling question. According to the former head of Qwest Communications, the NSA sought assistance with surveillance in February 2001, challenging the repeated claim that 9/11 “changed everything.” The question then, isWhat Did Pelosi Know about NSA, and When Did She Know It?

An Impeachment Groundswell

Despite the lack of cooperation from the Congress, the movement to impeach continues to gain traction in communities throughout the country.

According to AfterDowningStreet.org, impeachment resolutions have passed in Vermont’s state legislature (introduced in 11 other states), 26 statewide and national political committees, 19 state legislative districts, 91 cities, towns and counties, 54 local political groups/parties/jurisdictions, and several unions, seven ACLU chapters, with dozens more pending or in the works. Organizations well versed in constitutional law like the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights have also called for impeachment.

In addition, indictment resolutions against the president and vice president have been introduced in three jurisdictions including Kennebunkport, Maine, summer home of the Bush family. In Brattleboro, Vermont, the votes were cast and the president and vice President may be wise not to tread on that town any time soon.

These actions stand in stark contrast with John Conyers’ assertion in his prepared speech at last year’s Take Back America conference that “Too many Americans, however, feel that Bush’s assault on civil liberties are not really their concern.”

Congressional Rebuffs

Refusal by many members of Congress to support impeachment has little to do with whether or not they believe serious offenses have been committed as evidenced by letters to constituents.

Steve Rothman (D-NJ) is “outraged” over the president’s “overreaching intelligence gathering measures” and for “misleading the American people about the basis for going to war in Iraq.” He’s just not sure there is enough evidence. Perhaps John Conyers can lend him a copy of the “Constitution in Crisis.”

Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA) wrote “we have witnessed our government ignore the freedoms established in the Constitution on countless occasions and flaunted national security as justification.” While Sestak lays out numerous “egregious” abuses that “strike at the heart of our democracy,” he contends that congressional oversight will do the trick. One after another, members of Congress outline assaults on the Constitution by the president and vice president, but choose to ride out the next 10 months with little regard to the consequences.

Jerrold Nadler, chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution has, in essence, altered the Constitution by ruling out impeachment as a viable tool for this and future administrations. By doing so, he opens the door to certain abuse of power. Impeachment, he says, “Doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because essentially the framers of the Constitution did not foresee political parties.” It’s a wonder George Mason, himself, hasn’t risen up to demand that Nadler step down from his chairmanship.

“No point,” said Mason, “is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued.”

Upholding the Oath

Conservative Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer who served as associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan had a message for the Democratic leadership in a radio interview with Rob Kall of OpEdNews.com. “It is quite clear,” Fein remarked, “that they will not move because they think collectively that it will not be advantageous politically for the Democratic Party. I have retorted, you have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States which includes the impeachment clause.”

His voice rising, he stressed “That’s the only oath that you have taken. You have taken not an oath to support the Democratic Party. You’ve not taken an oath to support your political ambitions. The only unflagging obligation that you have is to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. You are violating your oath when the reason for not going forward is not because they are not impeachable offenses, but you make a political calculation that it wouldn’t be healthy for your party – even if it would be healthy for the government of the United States and for the American people.”

When Kall commented that some worried that impeachment proceedings would hurt the candidates, Fein was even more blunt than before. “I think that is nauseating. When you think about all the risks that the founding fathers took, death, their fortunes, [ . . . ] and these people say ‘yea there are impeachable offenses, but if we have to choose between the Constitution which so many have died to preserve and our party’s gains at the next election so let’s throw the Constitution out the window’ – that is nauseating. That kind of attitude would have left us a colony of Great Britain and it’s not American.”

Congressional Courage

There are members of Congress who are undeterred by the Democratic leadership stance. In April 2007, Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced House Resolution 333 that, if passed, would impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. Each time an old offense was exposed or a new one committed, representatives would add their support.

In November 2007, when public pressure failed to move the resolution out of the House Judiciary where it languished, Kucinich introduced a privileged resolution to force a vote. After an afternoon of partisan politicking, the resolution landed back in the House Judiciary Committee with a new title, H. Res. 799. To date, there are 27 sponsors of H. Res. 799. Six of the 27 also serve on the House Judiciary Committee.

Moved by pressure from his constituents and a strong allegiance to the Constitution, Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) rose up to lead the charge for impeachment hearings. In December, he authored an oped “A Case for Hearings” along with Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) also members of the House Judiciary Committee. In addition, he setup the website WexlerWantsHearings.com where he asked the public to lend their support. His long-term goal was 50,000 online signatures. Within the first 24 hours, 30,000 Americans had added their names. Currently, there are more than 233,000 supporters.

Wexler, along with 19 House members – five on the House Judiciary Committee – have written to chairman John Conyers urging support for impeachment hearings. In a New Year’s Eve post, The Nation named Robert Wexler, “The Most Valuable Congressman” stating, “If he keeps this up in 2008, Wexler could yet force the House to be what the founders intended: a check and balance on executive lawlessness.”

TBA 2008: The Republic Against the Rogue Presidency

Based on the reports from last week’s Take Back America conference, it appears that John Conyers has turned back the clock two years. It’s all about winning the elections. One blogger writes that the reason Conyers gave for not pursuing impeachment now is that “it would jeopardize the chance of a young, excellent man running for the White House,” referring to Senator Barack Obama. Sam Stein reports that “Conyers offered a strong suggestion that he intends to consider legal action against Bush and Company once they leave office.” Stein quotes Conyers as saying “We can win this thing and go get these guys after [they leave office].”

Conyers, like Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), offered that if Bush attacks Iran he should be impeached. It is disturbing to watch seasoned leaders, who have already witnessed this president wage a war on a country preemptively and on false pretenses, decide to “wait and see” rather than preventing more carngage by removing the rogue president for crimes already committed.

Activist David Swanson pulls no punches, “The congress that we elected in 2006 to end the occupation and hold Bush and Cheney accountable immediately decided to pretend to attempt to do its job for two years in hopes of winning more seats in 2008 by opposing the occupation and Bush and Cheney.”

“That this would mean hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, two years off the clock on global warming, our nation and others in ever greater danger of attack, and the continued erosion of our rights – these things didn’t faze Reid or Pelosi,” charged the activist. “The pretenses they’ve put up have included hearings, letters, subpoenas, contempt citations, and bills recriminalizing already illegal and unconstitutional actions. They’ve also pretended to try to pass all sorts of other legislation, such as a children’s health care bill, knowing full well that they would be vetoed or signing statemented. It’s a two-year election campaign at taxpayer expense.”

Regarding impeachment and the elections, Swanson contends “Forcing John McCain to choose between the Constitution and the least popular president and vice president ever would be a gold mine immediately apparent to any entity capable of playing offense. The Democratic Party only plays defense.”

Conyers and Nixon

Congressman Conyers might well be served, and the nation in turn, by recalling his 1974 article published in The Black Scholar entitled “Why Nixon Should Have Been Impeached.”

The 45-year-old Conyers wrote, “In calling him to account, we also reestablish the proper parameters of presidential conduct. It is essential, therefore, that the record of our inquiry be complete so that no future president may infer that we have implicitly sanctioned what we have not explicitly condemned.”

He closed by remarking, “Impeachment is difficult and it is painful, but the courage to do what must be done is the price of remaining free.”

 

“When once a republic is corrupted, there is no possibility of remedying any of the growing evils but by removing the corruption and restoring its lost principles; every other correction is either useless or a new evil.” Thomas Jefferson