A speech delivered to the
“Impeachment: Our Right, Our Duty” rally in Houston, Texas, April 9, 2007.
one believes the impeachment of George W. Bush is a realistic possibility or
is simply a vehicle for expressing outrage and educating the public about
the crimes of the powerful, any such talk starts with the U.S. Constitution
and Article II, Section 4, which speaks of “treason, bribery, or other high
crimes and misdemeanors.”
Few suggest that Bush is guilty of treason,
nor is there evidence of bribery -- unless we’re speaking of the routine way
in which campaign contributions are a kind of bribery, but that’s hardly
unique to Bush. That leaves us to ponder the phrase “high crimes and
misdemeanors,” which somehow seems inadequate to describe this
administration. “High crimes,” yes, but these are not “misdemeanors.” We’re
talking about repeat felony offenders.
Scholars debate what the category of “high crimes” might include, but it
certainly must include the violation of one of the central tenets of
international law -- that no nation-state can attack another unless in
self-defense or with authorization from the U.N. Security Council. Bush is
guilty of this -- a “crime against peace” in the language of the Nuremberg
Principles -- not once but twice, first in Afghanistan and next in Iraq.
That seems simple enough, but it also seems a bit unfair to pick on Bush
alone. After all, no single person -- not even the president of the United
States -- can undertake such massive crimes alone. Remember that the
constitution also includes in the category of impeachable persons the “Vice
President and all civil officers of the United States.” How deep into the
bench of the Bush administration might we go? Cheney and Rice seem like
obvious choices; Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Powell, and Armitage would have been
on the list before they left their posts. You all may have specific
favorites you would want to add.
But I suggest we not stop with Bush and his cronies. If we want to truly
change the direction of this country, we should widen the discussion. Who
else might deserve to be impeached?
Let’s start with the elected leadership of the Democratic Party, which aided
and abetted the high crimes of Bush by jumping on the “war on terror”
bandwagon and authorizing those illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
That makes the Democratic Party leadership complicit not only in the clear
violations of international law but also morally responsible for the death
and destruction that has followed. Now, even with a congressional majority,
the Democratic Party leadership refuses to take responsibility for its part
in this debacle and is timid in proposing meaningful solutions.
The complicity of the so-called opposition party brings to mind the last
Democratic administration; it’s hard to talk about impeachment without
mentioning Bill Clinton, who was impeached by the House of Representatives
on two charges -- grand jury perjury and obstruction of justice -- but
acquitted by the Senate. Whether Clinton’s abuse of power and invocation of
male privilege in exploiting a younger female employee, along with his
subsequent attempt to cover it up, warrant impeachment is a judgment call.
But there is no doubt that Clinton’s missile strikes on Afghanistan and the
Sudan in August 1998, allegedly in retaliation for the bombings of U.S.
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, were unlawful. There is no doubt that
Clinton’s air strikes on Iraq in December 1998, allegedly in reaction to
Iraqi defiance of UN resolutions on weapons, were unlawful. There is no
doubt that Clinton’s bombing of Serbia in the spring of 1999, allegedly to
prevent ethnic cleansing of Kosovars, was unlawful.
Finally, let us not forget that for the eight long years of our last
Democratic administration, Clinton insisted on the imposition of the
harshest economic embargo in modern history, again allegedly to force Saddam
Hussein to comply with UN resolutions. The 5,000 Iraqi children who died
each month due to a lack of adequate nutrition, medical care, and clean
water could have testified to the high crimes of Clinton -- if they had
survived. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, sacrificed
by Bill Clinton to deepen and extend U.S. dominance of the Middle East, will
have to provide silent testimony.
“High crimes” seems like the appropriate phrase here. Could there be some
kind of retroactive impeachment?
It appears that if we were to get serious about this impeachment thing,
there could be a whole lot of impeaching going on.
As along as we have moved outside the strict constitutional framework, let’s
imagine who else we might put on the list. Perhaps we shouldn’t stop with
government officials. I’m a former journalist and a journalism professor,
and it seems to me that maybe it’s time that we started impeachment
proceedings against the corporate commercial news media. We may recall that
journalists were an integral part of the creation of public support for the
unlawful invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. These weren’t idiosyncratic
failures of a few rogue journalists, but rather reflections of a systemic
subordination to power.
Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter who served as a
willing conduit for some of the most fraudulent claims the Bush
administration used to build support for the Iraq war, offered this pathetic
defense of her failures: “My job was not to collect information and analyze
it independently as an intelligence agency. My job was to tell readers of
the New York Times as best as I could figure out, what people inside
the governments who had very high security clearances, who were not supposed
to talk to me, were saying to one another about what they thought Iraq had
and did not have in the area of weapons of mass destruction.”
Karen DeYoung, senior diplomatic correspondent and associate editor of the
Washington Post, and also author of Soldier: The Life of Colin
Powell, was unusually honest in describing this process: “We are
inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power. If the
president stands up and says something, we report what the president said.”
She explained that if contrary arguments are put “in the eighth paragraph,
where they’re not on the front page, a lot of people don’t read that far.”
When reporters from two of the most authoritative newspapers in the United
States concede that in the course of doing their jobs -- playing by the
commonly understood rules of the game -- they will be little more than
delivery systems for the propaganda of the powerful, it seems that
contemporary corporate commercial journalism should be impeached for its
failure to fulfill its role as a check on concentrated power.
From corporate journalism we might look at the corporate sector more broadly
-- the corporations that profit from building the weapons of war, the
corporations that profit from the contracts to rebuild after a war, those
that provide private security, and those that win the right to exploit the
resources of the subordinated societies. Lockheed Martin, Haliburton,
Blackwater, ExxonMobil. Perhaps there should be corporate impeachment
Follow the logic and it’s clear that no matter how much this president might
deserve impeachment, he is only one person in a system that is fundamentally
indefensible and unsustainable. People at many levels are culpable and
complicit; there is plenty of responsibility to go around, assessed with an
eye toward people’s power and place in the decision-making structure, of
But we all have some role in this. That extends not only to the powerful but
to all of us who are citizens of the United States, citizens of the empire.
Many of us work hard in progressive political groups to try to make the
world a more just place. But the reality is that those of us living in the
empire do -- at least in the short term -- get some material benefits from
that empire, from that system that gives to the First World (especially the
United States) a disproportionate share of the world’s resources. No matter
how much we struggle, the fact is that the vast majority of people in the
United States live at a level of consumption that is unsustainable. We
indulge too often in our lust for the cheap toys of empire.
Have we done enough, as citizens who live in a relatively open democratic
system, to change that? Have we struggled enough? Have we been self-critical
I won’t make a judgment about that for anyone else. But I know that, for
myself, the answer is no. I have not done enough.
So, should I be impeached as a citizen of the United States who is not
living up to the moral and political responsibilities that come with the
unearned privilege I have by virtue of living in this society?
It’s easy to target the most manifestly evil among us, those whose moral and
political judgments cannot be justified by any theological or philosophical
system. We should critique those people in power and hold them accountable.
We should use the political tools available to us to try to create a better
But we also might pause and hold ourselves to the rigorous standards that
are going to be necessary if we are to create a world that is consistent
with our principles of justice, a world consistent with nature’s demands for
sustainability, a world beyond empire.
is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a
board member of the
Third Coast Activist Resource Center. He is the author of
The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and
Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City
Lights Books). He can be reached at
This article is based on remarks to the second "Last Sunday" community
gathering in Austin, TX, December 29, 2006.
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