Friday, March 03, 2006

Political Beat: What's all this about impeachment?

Let me preface today's entry by saying that this will not be a political rant or a soapbox speech. Instead, in the spirit of conscientious living, I am writing in response to an event Jae and I attended last night in order to share some ideas and resources with you, gentle reader.

The event last night was a public forum at The Town Hall on the question, "Is There a Case for Impeachment?" (C-SPAN has made the whole event available to view online -- click here.)We went because we are curious about all this impeachment talk and because it would be an opportunity to see some smart people talk live about an important issue. Lewis Lapham (pictured), venerable editor of Harper’s Magazine, had conceived the forum and invited Rep. John Conyers (ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee), Michael Ratner (president of the Center for Constitutional Rights), former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, and John Dean (Nixon Administration whistle-blower) to sit with him as panelists. Sam Seder, co-host of Air America’s show The Majority Report, moderated.

Before I mention the "answer" to the question posed, what I found most useful about the forum was to learn that "impeachment" means the same as "indictment," and a President (or any other elected or appointed government official) can be impeached whether or not they are found guilty of a crime. Reasons for impeachment can include treason, high crimes and misdemeanors, and other actions that threaten checks and balances and/or the supremacy of the Constitution. For instance, the panelists mentioned repeatedly that “executive tyranny” would qualify. But in fact, the President can be impeached for any reason at the discretion of the House. When writing the Constitution, the Founders foresaw that sometimes an elected official might turn out to be a bad apple, so they built in the impeachment process as a remedy.

Though it has only happened three times in history, it is up to Congress to impeach a President, and the process starts in the House of Representatives. The first step is to form a bi-partisan select committee to begin investigating whether or not there is adequate support for impeachment hearings. Rep. Conyers, who is on the House Judiciary Committee, has been tirelessly working on this for some time. In December 2005, he proposed House Resolution 635 calling for the formation of such a committee, accompanied by a 182-page report that took his staff six months to complete.

At first this committee business sounded like foot-dragging to me, but the advantage is that it has subpoena powers, meaning the committee could call forth for questioning anyone it wants and they will be under oath when they testify. There's no other way to get an adequate reading on Congressional support for impeachment since no one, especially Republicans, wants to say how they really think given the Administration's fondness for intimidating dissenters.

So, basically, before there can be an impeachment there must be a select committee. Conyers is the man heading up the efforts for forming this committee, but as of now there are only 27 others who have signed onto H. Res. 635 (click here to find out who they are). If you want to take action on this, call your Representative and urge them to sign onto H. Res. 635, or click here to sign and email prepared by the Center for Constitutional Rights, adding to the text that you urge them to support this key resolution.

So, ok, but is there a case for impeachment? The short answer according to this panel is yes, and the reasons why go on and on. The three primary reasons have to do with:
1) Spying on American citizens via warrantless wiretapping;
2) Detaining people without charges and condoning torture; and
3) Misleading the American public and Congress about Saddam Hussein's relationship with Osama bin Laden and about WMDs in order to gain support for going to war in Iraq.

Now, as Holtzman pointed out, when Congressmen come to office they also take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and if that Constitution is being threatened by the actions of the Administration, which many believe it is, then Congressmen have a sworn responsibility to take action. Again, however, they don't have to decide first whether or not Bush, Cheney, or anyone else is actually guilty. Impeachment means checking it out, under oath, and proceeding from there. Impeachment is the remedy for when a bad apple gets elected.

Thinking about the forum afterwards, Jae, big-picture kind of guy that he is, was left with two questions that I put here not so much to solicit answers but more as food for thought. The first is, what does the current Administration and its supporters envision for the future, for the next 5 years, 20, 50, 100 years? What is it they're after exactly? And his second question is, how did we get here, into this current situation? What allowed this veritable take-over to occur?

Being the details-person I am, I say that these questions, while valuable, cannot be answered quickly or easily, so in the meantime, if we citizens want change, we have to make some noise. Start with a call or email to your Representative (click here to find out who your Rep. is by zip code and how to contact him or her). And then find out who is running for a seat in the 2006 election and give them your support, because unless there is a party shift in Congress, impeachment is unlikely to occur.

If you’d like to read more about all this, check out the following:

“The Impeachment of George W. Bush” by Elizabeth Holtzman in The Nation (January 31, 2006)

“The Case for Impeachment” by Lewis Lapham in Harper's (March 2006)

Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush by John Dean (Little, Brown, 2004)

The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War by John Conyers (2005)

Ask questions, learn the facts, make your own decisions, then act.


Anonymous said...

It does not seem to matter what President Bush does. Some simply feel the need to undermine and bash everything that he does or wants to do.

Just for a minute consider the possibility of supporting him as our elected leader.
Then consider what could happen if a little positive energy were used in his support and through him in the support of our country.

Democracy does not mean that you or I will get or have a right expect to get everything that we want each and every time. I did not volunteer and serve for 3 years in the U.S. Army to defend the actions of peoples driven by hatred.

I do not agree with everything that President Bush has done, however, I do respect him as the person elected by the people to lead our country.

If you do not feel that he is doing or has done a good job then would it not be more productive to find a person to your liking and support this person in a bid to become our next leader?

Greenjeans Adventure said...

Greenjeans replies:

I appreciate your thoughtful and considerate dissention -- thank you for writing in. If only more Bush supporters could be as clear and respectful as you.

I agree with your point at the end -- I think a lot of Bush critics would be better off putting their/our energy into backing a potential next leader. That's where energy is needed. It's much easier to be negative and critical than to be positive, and too many of us don't seem to see it would behoove us to make the effort.

At the same time, it's important to our country and system of democracy that we challenge our leaders when if we see them doing things that undermine the Constitution and our rights protected therein, as it appears our current President is doing. The call for impeachment is a fair call for inquiry. If he is innocent, he should have no qualms about being impeached.

Thank you again for your reply. And as a private citizen who has never served, I thank you for your three years of service with the Army.

- Amy