Tag Archives: Ray McGovern

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.

 

 

Washington Think-Tank Cultivating ‘Last Resort’ Against Iran and Priming Next President

Originally posted at OpEdNews.com

Preventive – a seemingly innocuous word has been getting a lot of play in recent publications and conferences sponsored by Washington think tanks – perhaps nowhere more than at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Generally we don’t expect death, destruction and illegality to rest on the preventive side of the equation. Then again, after March 19, 2003, perhaps we should. When WINEP uses the word preventive they mean “preventive military action.” More precisely – a military attack on another country, in this case Iran that is neither in self-defense nor in response to an immediate threat of attack.

The likelihood of a military strike against Iran either by the United States or Israel has been debated for years waxing and waning with the geopolitical climate. What is not in question is the steady effort by some to lay the ground work for such an action.

The Washington Institute founded by Martin Indyk, a former research director for AIPAC, seeks to “bring scholarship to bear on the making of U.S. policy” in the Middle East. Among its programs is the Presidential Study Group “charged with drafting a blueprint for the next administration’s Middle East policy.” WINEP’s board of advisors includes noted figures such as Richard Perle, R. James Woolsey and until 2001 Paul Wolfowitz.

Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow and director of WINEP’s Military and Security Studies Program wrote a three-page article in September 2006 entitled “Iran: The Complex Calculus of Preventive Military Action.” Eisenstadt discussed the factors that would be in play if the U.S. took preventive military action to “thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

He tackled first the matter of congressional authorization for a planned attack on Iran. He referred to it as “consulting Congress.” Quickly bypassing Congress’ constitutional power to declare war citing precedence, Eisenstadt laid out two options. 1. Inform a select group of members of Congress prior to launching a strike, but risk public disapproval. 2. Allow Congress to openly debate the “merits of military action” and seek a joint resolution, but risk defeat of a resolution.

Bearing in mind WINEP’s mission to use scholarship to assist in policy making, it is worth noting a glaring omission. Mr. Eisenstadt made no room for discussion of the UN Charter ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1945 thereby making it the law of our land. It requires that member nations refrain from the threat or use of force and that if a dispute is not settled it shall be referred to the Security Council which will make recommendations.

While the Charter allows for military action in self-defense and the issue of a preemptive attack in the face of “imminent danger” has been a point of contention in recent years, no strong case for an “imminent” attack was even put forth in the article. What Eisenstadt was considering was a preventive strike to “thwart ambitions.”

To minimize national backlash – a rally around the flag in Iran – Eisenstadt recommended that the U.S. engage in a “high-profile information campaign” to convince the Iranian people that an attack on their country is in their best interest. The article concluded that while seeking diplomacy, military prevention should be on the table.

In summer 2007, Eisenstadt published another article on preventive action “The Complex Calculus of Preventive Military Action.” Along with the title the article was, with a few exceptions, the same as the one he authored in 2006.

In 2006, his reason was “faltering diplomacy” over Iran’s nuclear program. In 2007, he pointed to Bush administration claims that Iran was supplying IED’s that were being used against U.S. forces in Iraq. This was a big news item at the time. What was not big news was that proof of those claims never fully materialized.

Both articles shared an important statement, “[One] should not dismiss the possibility that the intelligence picture concerning Iran’s nuclear program could change rapidly.” And change it did. In December 2007, the key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran were made public. Among the findings: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

Thus began the campaign to discredit the 2007 NIE on Iran.

Bending, conspiring, duping and ruining our day

The first to let his fingers fly was Norman Podhoretz. Writing for the Commentary, he penned an article in June 2007 entitled “The Case for Bombing Iran.” On September 11, his book World War IV: The Long Struggle against Islamofascism was released.

Hours after the key judgments of the NIE were made public, he accused the intelligence community of “bending over backward” to dispute what he claimed is universally believed – that Iran is “hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons.” He continued, “But, I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again.” Patrick Clawson, WINEP’s deputy director for research offered his own spin. He asked “how much does weaponization matter?” and claimed that the findings only suggest a change in sequence by Tehran. For good measure, Clawson lamented about the U.S. intelligence community’s “poor track record.”

Next up: Kenneth Timmerman. Writing for Newsmax, Timmerman cited the publication’s alleged sources in Tehran and claimed that “Washington has fallen for ‘a deliberate disinformation campaign’ cooked up by the Revolutionary Guards.”

Timmerman viciously attacked Thomas Fingar, chair of the National Intelligence Council, and others involved in preparing the NIE all the while quoting himself from the book he authored that was released a few weeks earlier entitled Shadow Warriors: The Untold Story of Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender. It’s unclear whether he was suggesting Dr. Fingar was a traitor, a saboteur or just a wimp.

James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation urged readers not to be misled by the NIE. Despite the NIE’s high confidence that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program, Phillips warned of the danger of “disinformation or misinformation.” His answer was that it was “Time for Team B.” He said the president should establish an independent panel of experts to examine the evidence assembled in the NIE. Either the U.S. intelligence agencies’ experts were not expert enough for Mr. Phillips’ liking or their findings were not to his liking.

Podhoretz, Timmerman and Phillips are all members of The Committee on the Present Danger co-chaired by WINEP’s advisory board member, R. James Woolsey.

When committed to your hand – double down.

With the November 2007 NIE in mind would Michael Eisenstadt, for the third year, reintroduce the Complex Calculus? In June 2008, it resurfaced. This time primarily as an annex to a 45-page publication called Agenda: Iran. The Last Resort: Consequences of Preventive Action against Iran coauthored with colleague Patrick Clawson.

The authors assert that the study does not advocate military action – the time is not right and they don’t know the level of target intelligence available to the U.S. The Last Resort does lay out the “prerequisites for a successful policy of preventive action should the United States decide to go this route.” A precursory look finds they favor prevention over deterrence while only feigning interest in diplomacy. Undoubtedly what it does is provide that all important blueprint for a preventive strike not only militarily, but politically.

There is no hiding the resentment the authors have for the release of the NIE findings. They blame lack of support for preventive action by allies and even Iranians on the intelligence community “seemingly soft-pedaling Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

The article speaks to the proper conditions both in the U.S. and Iran for a preventive strike to be accepted and successful. One scenario they describe is if Iran were to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In January 2007 John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN and perennial cheerleader for bombing Iran, in a conference call reportedly with members of AIPAC, expressed disappointment that Iran had not withdrawn from the NPT in response to the UN Security Council Resolution passed the month before. “I actually hoped they would. That kind of reaction,” he told them “would produce a counter-reaction that actually would be more beneficial to us.”

Smoking-gun evidence presents a dilemma for the authors. Striking in the absence of it would create a challenge militarily in terms of target intelligence and could evoke sympathy for Iran. Attacking Iran in the presence of smoking-gun proof, they report, could be “tantamount to going to war with a nuclear Iran.” And, waiting for it “may amount to de facto acquiescence in a nuclear-armed Iran.” The language is familiar.

“The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Condoleezza Rice, September 8, 2002.

“Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof – the smoking gun – that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” Pres. George W. Bush, October 7, 2002.

Nuclear facilities are not the only targets Eisenstadt and Clawson consider worthy of bombing. They also eye Iran’s oil infrastructure. They admit it may result in soaring oil prices and poor economic growth, but quickly add those problems are “not clearly the greater evil.”

They also suggest coupling strikes on nuclear facilities with strikes on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and the Ministry of Intelligence. This combined with the prospect that repeated strikes may be required, preventive military action begins to emerge as a widespread military campaign.

Also discussed is an Israeli strike versus U.S. strike. While Israel may be more disposed to taking preventive action, they say, it will likely engender more international criticism. They question the effectiveness of an Israeli-led strike versus one led by the U.S. military. Given that many will conclude that the U.S. at the very least gave the green light, they offer a few suggestions including the U.S. preempting a strike by Israel or proposing a joint U.S.-Israel action.

Prevention, they say, would involve a significant risk of retaliation by the Iranians and may only delay the nuclear program most likely requiring future military action. Not mentioned are casualties or financial burdens. When discussing deterrence they employ phrases like “catastrophic failure” and the “deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions.” What is clearly not acceptable in connection to a policy of deterrence is a resultant “ambiguous nuclear weapons capability.”

Taking the Show on the Road

Eisenstadt’s call for a high-profile information campaign was not limited to targeting Iranians. On July 3, 2008, he participated in a conference call with reporters held simultaneously in Washington, D.C., London, Brussels and Jerusalem.

Sponsoring the call was The Israel Project (TIP). According to its website, TIP “provides journalists, leaders and opinion-makers accurate information about Israel” influencing “hundreds of millions of people around the world.” Its board of advisors includes 22 members of the U.S. Congress (12 Senators and 10 Representatives).

He said that he was somewhat pessimistic about the prospects of successful diplomacy. He then repeated to the 100-plus reporters the fear-eliciting conclusion from the Last Resort that not acting militarily could result in catastrophe and the deaths of millions of people.

Mark Summers, a reporter based in Bahrain, asked whether talk of preventive measures was premature given the findings of the U.S. intelligence community. Eisenstadt responded, “To be honest, to be fair, I think that the NIE was carefully couched.”

A Former CIA Analyst Weighs in on the Last Resort

Ray McGovern, who during his 27-years in the CIA had the opportunity to chair NIE’s, had strong words about Eisenstadt’s approach.

“One way to look at the Eisenstadt paper [the Last Resort] and briefing is as a surrogate NIE. They fulfill the function of an Estimate nicely for administration’s purposes not unlike the Office of Special Plans setup by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith in the Pentagon to come up with the “correct” answers before and during Iraq. It’s an old stratagem; one of the best examples was Team B which played up the Soviet threat starting in the ‘70s.”

McGovern who has advocated for a “Memorandum to Holders” of the previous estimate – an update to the 2007 NIE – added sharply “If you can’t get the answers you want from the $50 billion intelligence bureaucracy, make sure they do nothing and create something off on the side to provide what you want.”

On preventive military action, McGovern doesn’t hold back. “Preventive military action is a war crime. It’s a war of aggression defined by Nuremberg as the supreme international crime.” Referring to the Last Resort he said “I’m sure it’s being shown to whomever will digest it into words for the president as ‘this is probably the considered view of the experts’ on Iran.”

Next Stop on the Preventive Action Tour: Christians United for Israel (CUFI)

In late July 2008, WINEP’s Patrick Clawson joined controversial pastor John Hagee’s CUFI for their Washington-Israel Summit. Ali Gharib, a Washington-based journalist, discussed Clawson’s role in an article he wrote. Clawson sat on the panel “Iran: Eye of the Storm.” This panel was closed to the press so Gharib attended instead with a participant’s pass.

He reported “Clawson elicited laughter from the crowd with his statement that Some Iranian leaders are quite happy to be suicidal. Many of them are not rational.” He also claimed “Iran is spending at least $200 million a year financing, training, and arming every terror group that is killing Israelis in the pursuit of eliminating the state of Israel.”

However, during the Q&A session when questioned about possible Iranian retaliation to a U.S. strike, Gharib writes that Clawson responded by saying, “The history, so far, is of blood-curdling threats, and [then] nothing happens.”

It seems in a brassy attempt to sell the preventive action product, Clawson points to heinous actions by an irrational regime and then when asked about Iranian retaliation, he claims that same group might not respond at all to an attack on its homeland.

Shifting Focus to Arabs and Americans

For years, the focus on preventing a “nuclear Iran” was based on the perceived threat to the state of Israel as demonstrated in Patrick Clawson’s presentation at the Christians United for Israel conference. But in September, a noticeable shift began to emerge from the thinkers at the Washington Institute.

On September 11, 2008, Clawson wrote “Don’t Make Iran an Israeli Issue” published in The Jewish Daily Forward. After reminding readers of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he wrote “Lately, however, the public discussion has been focused too much on the specific threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to Israel.” He reasserted that claim, but then added how it would also be a “menace” to its “Arab neighbors and to American and Western interests.”

Seeking no cover, he explains “[If] we want to figure out how to move Russia and China to do more, we are more likely to persuade these governments by emphasizing the risk of proliferation rather than the threat to Israel.”

To Bomb or Not to Bomb

Two weeks later, Clawson and Eisenstadt hosted a panel at The Washington Institute called “Bombing Iran or Living with Iran’s Bomb.” It was based on a publication of the same title written by Kassem Ja’afar for the Transatlantic Institute in Brussels, an organization established in 2004 by the American Jewish Committee.

Isaac Ben-Israel, a member of the Knesset and retired major general in the Israeli Defense Forces spoke directly to the question of prevention versus deterrence and concluded that the “chosen strategy” would be prevention. “The reason” he said “is not only because I am speaking as an Israeli and we all know the policy of Iran towards Israel calling to destroy Israel or to wipe it out of the map every two days or so, it’s not that reason by itself. It is much deeper than this.”

Ben-Israel then shifted to Clawson’s new call to action. He stated that because Iran is neither Arab nor Sunni a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran is “frightening not only Israel but those Arab leaders, what we call the moderate Arab states in the Middle East.” He spoke of proliferation and Iran exporting the Shi’a revolution.

He predicted in the face of a military conflict, despite heavy losses, “Israel will survive and Iran will go back to the Stone Ages.” He warned that Iranian nuclear capability is the main concern because once they have that it’s just “a few months away” from having a bomb and that “I think will depend only on their good will, if you believe they have a good will.”

Kassem Ja’afar, former diplomatic advisor to the government of Qatar, turned the attention to a regional issue. What Ja’afar said is perhaps more reflective of the concerns of the U.S. and Israel governments than a fear of attack. According to Ja’afar “[Very] simply Iran wants to be recognized as a regional super power…because it wants to have a dominant effect on the policies of the region, on the wealth of the region, and the strategic position of the region vis-à-vis the world.”

This is unacceptable, he said, because of the ideological and strategic dimensions. Strategic dimensions like “oil and the Gulf and the maritime routes throughout the Middle East.” In his publication he describes in great detail the military assets that Israel and the U.S. would bring to the table if there were a preventive attack – writing U.S. involvement into the picture as a given.

Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst brought some cold reality to the discussion. Because of the absence of unclassified intelligence, he has seen “people coming out with strike plans” in Op-Ed’s that “range from rubbish to irresponsible,” casting a disapproving look at one or more of the panelists which included in addition to Kassem Ja’afar and Isaac Ben-Israel, Michael Eisenstadt and Patrick Clawson.

He continued “The fact is that these are extraordinarily complex and they involve far more than simply counting targets…This is much more of a chainsaw than a scalpel.” He did offer “What we have and what Israel does not have is the ability to persist. We have the ability to do the damage assessment. We have the ability to do re-strikes.”

During the Q&A, Clawson and Eisenstadt focused on the issue of a preventive attack on Iran. Clawson asked Isaac Ben-Israel “What do you think the international community and Israel would do in the aftermath of this strike to prevent Iran from rebuilding?”

Ben-Israel responded nonchalantly “If we fail we have to come back five years later and do the same again…The alternative is, do we want for Iran to have a bomb?” Answering his own question, he closed with “the alternative is worse.”

Michael Eisenstadt asked Kassem Ja’afar, “What might the Arabs be willing to do to help either the United States or Israel with preventive military action?” Ja’afar’s answer in a nutshell, “I frankly don’t think the Arabs can do much at all.”

Deputy Director of National Intel Gives WINEP a Presidents Daily Brief – Say What?!

Ray McGovern was on to something when he spoke about WINEP and the Last Resort serving as a surrogate NIE. Seems the Washington Institute for Near East Policy may have the best seat in town when it comes to access to U.S. intelligence.

McGovern said it was “bizarre that McConnell’s [Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence] principal deputy Donald Kerr briefed WINEP some 5 or 6 months ago….and a CIA nuclear weapons expert also briefed WINEP.”

That CIA analyst may have been Michael Leiter, Acting Director of the National Counterterrorism Center who paid WINEP a visit in February 2008 to discuss the “looming challenges in the war on terror.” Ray believes that this level of interaction by the agency with WINEP is “Very irregular.”

On May 29, 2008, Donald Kerr, the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence delivered a remarkable presentation to WINEP.

Speaking at a program entitled Emerging Threats, Challenges, and Opportunities in the Middle East, Kerr explained that the Presidents Daily Brief (PDB) was one of their most privileged documents read by only a handful of people and delivered to the president by either the Director of National Intelligence or himself. He added “They are based on some of our best collection capabilities, coupled with our most exacting analysis.”

Then Donald Kerr announced “This evening, I’m going to give you a notional view of some of the issues that will be raised in the Oval Office PDB on January 21, 2009.”

“We’ll give you a snapshot of where things stand now and some of the overarching thoughts as to potential future developments…Iran, for example, continues to provide weapons, funding, and training support to certain Iraqi Shi’a militants designed to increase Tehran’s influence over Iraq and ensure the United States suffers setbacks.”

He offered a taste of intelligence analysis on the state of Iran when the next president takes office. The level of authenticity or sincerity is not clear. Was what he provided his own personal conclusion or based on combined intelligence and analysis?  Certainly, it would be improper for someone in his capacity to fabricate information about such a sensitive matter.  No heavily guarded secrets were shared it seems, but the presentation did appear to be tailored to his audience. With Congress fighting for more access to intelligence information it does seem “very irregular” that a think tank with a clearly pro-Israel viewpoint that regularly discusses a military attack on Iran would be hand-fed information of any level directly from the ODNI.

What follows are highlights, including a jab at the NIE, from Kerr’s prepared speech on his mock PDB on Iran:

“The regime has become more authoritarian …Despite rising oil income, Iran’s economy is plagued by high inflation and unemployment…Iran’s foreign activities constitute a direct and immediate threat to American interests.

Iran is pursuing a range of efforts to undermine U.S. influence…The U.S. military continues to find caches of Iranian-made weapons in Iraq, including rockets, small arms, and explosively formed penetrator devices, including some manufactured in the past year.

We must also talk about the nuclear issue. Over the past year, we have gained important new insights into Iran’s activities related to nuclear weapons, and in November 2007, the Intelligence Community published a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iranian intentions and capabilities in this area. In our NIE…we also judged that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities…But given that the halted activities were part of an unannounced secret program that Iran attempted to hide, we do not know whether it has been restarted since our last assessment…A number of countries in the region have recently expressed renewed interest in nuclear power.”

These remarks fit like a glove to WINEP’s Last Resort hand.

A Q&A followed with at least one member of WINEP pretending he was the president, pushing the envelope in his questions to Donald Kerr to the great amusement of the audience. But, there was no joke about the information he was trying to elicit – target intelligence on Iran.

Michael Stein asked “Do you know exactly where those production facilities are and how we can target them or what kind of weaponry will produce the result we want? I would hope also that you have some boots on the ground and you’ve done some mapping for us and can give us precise directions of where to go and what to do. And, finally, at what point would you suggest to me that the Iranians have gone too far in this development and that I better do something about it before we pass the point of no return? [Laughter, applause.]

You can read Donald Kerr’s response to those questions here as well as questions posed by R. James Woolsey, Martin Gross and others.

Priming the Incoming President

Mentioned earlier was WINEP’s Presidential Study Group that “drafts a blueprint for the next administration’s Middle East policy.” One of the task forces is the “Future of the U.S.-Israeli Relations.” This group convened several times throughout 2007 and 2008 including a retreat with ten Israeli counterparts.

Their final product is a Statement on “How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge.” It states that Iran’s nuclear weapons capability “hovers above all other items on the U.S.-Israel agenda.”

Among the declarations of this Statement:

“We have an abiding commitment to the survival and security of Israel, so the potential threat to Israel of an Iranian nuclear bomb is a major concern of ours as well.”

“Americans should recognize that deterrence is, in Israeli eyes, an unattractive alternative to prevention, because, if deterrence fails, Israel would suffer terribly.”

“[The] U.S.-Israel relationship has come under unprecedented attack. Some of these critics argue that Israel has manipulated the U.S. government to act counter to the American national interest, which – if properly understood – would see Israel as a liability… We reject that critique.”

The Task Force recommends that the new president’s policy options should include coercive options and preventive military action against Iran. They ask the president to use his position to convey directly to the American people that Iran’s “nuclear ambitions are likely to trigger a surge of nuclear proliferation…The central argument is that preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability is not special pleading for America’s ally Israel – it is vital to America’s own security.”

Included among the signatories to this Statement are advisors to Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. They include Dennis Ross, Obama’s senior advisor on Middle East affairs. Ross served as co-convenor of this task force and is a consultant to WINEP. Other foreign policy advisors to Sen. Obama who signed in support of this Statement are Richard Clarke, Susan Rice and Anthony Lake. R. James Woolse, advisor to Sen. McCain and advisor to WINEP signed as well. Worth noting is the cover of the publication that displays a photograph with U.S. and Israeli flags waving behind a line of uniformed men and women armed with what I am told are AR-15’s, M-16’s and AK-47’s.

Considering the working relationship with advisors to both presidential candidates, the exchange of information with members of the intelligence community and even a special visit in October 2007 by Vice President Dick Cheney, there is little doubt that the Washington Institute for Near East Policy will continue to live up to its mission to draft and shape U.S. policy in the Middle East – a policy that assigns a high priority to a preventive military attack on Iran.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NJ Congressman: Bush Admin Will ‘Gulf of Tonkinize’ Iran

originally published at OpEdNews.com

Before an audience of constituents, activists and veterans, U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) issued a strong warning at a South Jersey Iraq War Forum in June:

 

There is a real and consistent concern that the government of Iran is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. Now there has been saber rattling about this. There’s going to be an attempt, I believe, to Gulf of Tonkinize this issue before the November election and I think you can anticipate all kinds of Naval adventures in the Persian Gulf that will try to be used as a pretext for an attack on Iran. I think that that will be the strategy in the November election. [video at 6 min]

Congressman Andrews made a similar charge two weeks prior while engaged in a bitter primary campaign against incumbent and fellow Democrat, Senator Frank Lautenberg.

In May, Max Pizarro of the Politickr quoted Rep. Andrews, “Every couple of weeks the administration tries to blow out of proportion a naval incident. If you look at their history – the way they beat up Max Cleland in 2002, and their use of the Bin Laden tape against Kerry in 2004 – I expect them to do something like that again, and I wouldn’t doubt their attempts to Gulf of Tonkinize Iran in an election year.”

Pizarro either unconcerned or unfamiliar with what it would mean to “Gulf of Tonkinize” Iran zeroed in on Andrews claim that the 84-year-old Lautenberg could not “fight back against this Republican attack machine.” Other media outlets ignored the statement altogether.

What makes the June 13 remarks any different? Ten days earlier, Rep. Andrews lost decidedly to the senior statesman from North Jersey. The race for the U.S. Senate was no longer a factor. In addition, Rep. Andrews who held the House seat since 1990 announced in April that he would not seek reelection in November if he lost to Sen. Lautenberg.

Empty Rhetoric or Fair Warning?

The idea that the Bush administration would deliberately provoke a military conflict with Iran was not a new concept particularly among the mostly antiwar audience. Strong words, however, from a congressman tapped by President Bush to coauthor the House version of the Iraq Resolution in 2002.

Additionally, Rep. Andrews who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, co-founded the Iran Working Group and is on the board of advisors of the Israel Project is known to take a hard line when it comes to Iran. Regarding a nuclear Iran, he is clear: “A nuclear Iran would present the world with a danger never before realized.” In a 2006 address on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Rep. Andrews foreshadowed a “nuclear 9/11 in Lower Manhattan” if Iran were allowed to continue enriching uranium.

By February 2007, as Andrews’ faith in the administration’s handling of the Iraq War was waning, he began to express concern over President Bush’s approach to Iran. Andrews took to the House floor and argued that the House needed to affirm its constitutional prerogative and sole authority to declare war.

I am troubled by recent signs that I have seen from our administration with respect to the issue of Iran. Placement of naval assets in that area of the world is justified as a defensive measure, but I worry that it may be a provocative measure. The words of our President are words which can be taken, and I hope they are meant in the spirit of warning and cooperation, but they could also be taken in the spirit of provocation, and I hope and pray that they are not meant in that regard.

On May 16, 2007, Rep. Andrews’ amendment to the Defense Authorization Act for 2008 that would prevent authorized funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from being used to plan a contingency operation in Iran was narrowly defeated. Among supporters was Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR).

Minutes later, the House voted on Rep. DeFazio’s amendment. It would clarify that no previously enacted law authorized military action against Iran. It prohibited funding authorized by the bill from being used to take military action against Iran without authorization from Congress unless there was a national emergency created by an attack by Iran. Andrews inexplicably voted against it.

The following month Rep. Andrews joined Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in introducing the Iran Sanctions Enhancement Act of 2007. This bipartisan legislation would extend sanctions to entities that provide refined petroleum to Iran.

Now Congressman Andrews, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Iran Working Group, predicts that in order to win an election for the Republicans, the administration will create a false flag, a casus belli, in order to attack Iran. Regardless of the reason, would the Bush administration take such sinister action? Journalist, Seymour Hersh, laid out such a case in his July article in the New Yorker, Preparing the Battlefield.

Were Rep. Andrews’ remarks partisan rhetoric or sincere warning? If it is the former, we may have stumbled upon a new low in partisan politics. If the latter, the question should be what is he going to do about it.

Caution and Reminders

Upon his return from Israel this summer, Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen warned of opening up a “third front” in Iran. He added, “Just about every move in that part of the world is a high risk move.”

Furthermore, Dr. Thomas Fingar, Deputy Director of the NIA and Chair of the NIC reaffirmed in a keynote address two weeks ago what was stated in the November NIE on Iran that “work on the weaponization portion of the program was suspended.”

Congressional Inaction and Reaction

If Rep. Andrews stands by his ‘Gulf of Tonkinize’ claim then he should be taking the proper steps to prevent what could be a catastrophic event. Unfortunately, the staffers in Andrews’ DC office are adept at reciting “we can’t speak for the congressman.” Numerous attempts at clarification have been ignored.

Meanwhile, a controversial resolution on Iran, H. Con. Res. 362, continues to gain support. Despite sponsorship withdrawal by five House members (Reps. Danny Davis, Steve Cohen, Thomas Allen, Wm. Lacy Clay and John Lewis), there are presently 271 cosponsors. Three other cosponsors (Reps. Robert Wexler, Barney Frank, and Jackie Speier), have called for a change in specific language.

 

This non binding resolution, demands that the President prohibit the export of refined petroleum products to Iran and impose stringent inspections on persons and transport entering and departing Iran. In addition, it prohibits all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating a suspension of Iran’s nuclear program from international movement.

related bill introduced by Senator Evan Bayh (R-IN) now with 50 cosponsors has been referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Contained in both resolutions are whereas clauses that are of questionable validity.

 

Should President Bush choose to rise to the occasion and act on the recommendations, a perfect storm for Mr. Andrews’ gloomy prediction may soon roll into the Persian Gulf.

Dissing the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran

Among the Key Judgments of the Nov. 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran is the statement “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

Before the NIE release President Bush, ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran, invoked references such as “World War III.” Never one to let 16 U.S. intelligence agencies get in his way, the president used the findings to boost his claim that Iran is a “threat to peace” adding “My opinion hasn’t changed.”

Soon, the media and many members of Congress fell in line creating an opening for those hell-bent on opening up that third front.

Two weeks ago, John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN spoke to Pepe Escobar of the Real News. Regarding the November NIE, Bolton said, “Look, the NIE has been effectively repudiated by the intelligence community. It’s as dramatic a reversal as I’ve ever seen. I don’t think there’s any doubt in most people’s minds that Iran continues to pursue a nuclear-weapons capability, and I fear that they have achieved all of the scientific and technical knowledge that they need to have a deliverable nuclear weapon. So we’re at a very critical point in dealing with Iran, and our options are quite limited.”

Tell that to Dr. Fingar, Mr. Bolton.

 

Perverse Legislation

Perversion of the NIE has also made its way into congressional legislation. One “whereas” clause within H. Con. Res. 362 states, “Whereas the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate reported that Iran was secretly working on the design and manufacture of a nuclear warhead until at least 2003, but that Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon as soon as late 2009.”

The first part of the clause is a far cry from the original that states “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

Part two states “Iran could have enough HEU for a nuclear weapon as soon as late 2009.” While the NIE judged with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of this is late 2009, it continued “but that this is very unlikely.”

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern who, during his 27-year tenure with the CIA, chaired National Intelligence Estimates commented “The resolution conveniently drops off the clause, but that this is very unlikely.” He added, “That is so transparent and disingenuous that it is not worthy of legislators.”

Recent news suggests the administration may not need to risk a “Gulf of Tonkin” incident. Israel Today reported over the weekend, “In an apparent about-face, the Bush Administration announced on Friday that it has decided to approve the sale of 1,000 advanced bunker-buster bombs to Israel.”

If Israel uses these weapons against Iran it will come as no surprise if in the aftermath, the U.S. rushes to the aid of Israel. After all, Bush declared in an address to the Knesset in May that “America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world.”

What should be done now?

Ray McGovern offered that “Mullen should formally and publicly request a Memorandum to Holders of the November 2007 NIE on Iran inquiring into what the evidence collected since mid-07 might tell us of any changes. He could do that and he should.”

The function of an MTH explained McGovern “would be to update the most serious issues covered in the original NIE dated Nov. 07.  A Memo to Holders could be done and coordinated among the 16 intelligence agencies in a month or two.”

At least one member of Congress agrees with the need for an MTH. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) offered an amendment to the 2009 National Intelligence Act that calls for a Memorandum to Holders of the NIE on Iran. The Bush administration has already threatened a veto.

McGovern responded, “It was a laudable effort on his part to try to make it law that there be an MTH so McConnell would be forced (theoretically, at least) to do one. But, it speaks volumes that a member of Reyes’ committee thinks it necessary to do, via eminently veto-able legislation, what Reyes could do by just picking up the phone. HPSCI does, after all, control the CIA budget and other agencies’ money as well.”

Yes. Congress has the power to request an update – a Memorandum to Holders – of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran.

With a surge in rhetoric, a U.S. sale of bunker-busting bombs to Israel, a media that hasn’t learned its lesson, charges that the administration will “Gulf of Tonkinize” Iran, and more members of Congress including Presidential candidates conveniently forgetting or dismissing the findings of the NIE on Iran, ordering a Memorandum to Holders is the responsible thing to do. Anything less would be gross misfeasance.

For five months, Mr. Andrews emphatically stated he would not seek reelection to the House if he lost the Senate primary. Last week, he threw his hat back in the ring replacing wife, Camille, on the ballot.

Mr. Andrews, now that you’re back in the game, action is what is needed. Call for a Memorandum to Holders of the 2007 NIE on Iran and invite your colleagues on both sides to join you. Set the record straight before President Bush taps you on the shoulder once again.

 

Congressman Rob Andrews: Phone 202-225-6501 Fax 202-225-6583

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

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