In the current issue of The National Review, William F. Buckley calls for the Bush administration to admit that it made a hideous mistake by invading Iraq, writing that “the administration has, now, to cope with failure and the acknowledgment of defeat” of its entire policy from launching the war to believing it could unite and pacify religious enemies whose mutual hatred goes back a millennia, to installing a government that superficially resembles a democracy.
On one hand, when the dean of modern conservative politics says Iraq was a mistake, even the most ideologically driven neo-con must pay attention. On the other, the “failure” and “defeat” he writes about is not simply another “Oops, we goofed!” mea culpa that White House apologists can spin on the Sunday morning interview shows. While cloaking his condemnation in polite Ivy League-ese terms like “postulates” and “mitigation of policies,” Mr. Buckley overlooks one simple fact: No matter how noble a policy of spreading freedom may look on paper, the White House has been criminal in carrying it out.
The dilemma for America is: When the whole executive branch is criminal, how do you impeach an entire administration?
* President Bush knowingly lied to Congress when he certified in writing an immediate threat to the security of the United States mandated the need to use armed force to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. As has been well documented over the past three years, the administration knew before Bush’s 2003 State of the Union message that there were serious doubts in the intelligence establishment -- the CIA, DIA, State Dept. and Dept. of Energy -- that Saddam had either chemical weapons or a program to build atomic weapons. Lying to Congress is a federal offense, a felony punishable with prison; on its face, it is also a “high crime and misdemeanor” -- an impeachable offence.
* The President knowingly violated both the Constitution and the law by authorizing warrantless wiretapping, eavesdropping and spying on Americans. Likewise, in claiming the power to arrest and hold without charge citizens he has violated the Constitution and his oath of office to uphold that very document. He committed a felony and an impeachable offence.
* Vice President Dick Cheney, armed with an Executive Order he got Bush to sign allowing him to unilaterally declassify information, decided to declassify Valerie Plame’s role in the CIA. He then set about outing her when her husband returned from Niger and wrote a report stating that there was no evidence Iraq was trying to buy yellowcake, a necessary ingredient to make a nuclear weapon. Jason Leopold, who has been covering Plamegate from the start, reported on Feb. 24, 2006, that the White House had just “found” 250 allegedly missing e-mails about Plame and that the Vice President is implicated directly. The e-mails purportedly show Cheney lied to FBI agents about his role in the scandal, itself a federal offence punishable by imprisonment. It also meets the “high crime and misdemeanor” impeachment test.
* Even after being warned by the Navy’s general counsel -- its top lawyer -- that interrogation techniques being used by Americans at Guantanamo were illegal, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued an order authorizing what amounts to physical and psychological torture. He has repeatedly denied the Red Cross private access to prisoners despite a treaty which guarantees the agency such access, a treaty which was first written by the United States. Likewise, the FBI warned the Defense Dept. that the interrogation of prisoners it witnessed was violating US law against torture, a warning Rumsfeld ignored. Now, along with the Red Cross, groups including the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the US for violating basic human rights, partly because it keeps secret the names of prisoners being held and partly for abusing the prisoners in custody. Put Mr. Rumsfeld in the dock next to Bush and Cheney.
* While White House counsel, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, with help from ideologue sycophants like former Justice Dept. lawyer and now law professor John Yoo, created a convoluted rationale to support the illegal actions of the Executive Branch. Apparently, Mr. Gonzales never studied the laws written largely by the United States for the Nuremberg trials that judged Nazi war criminals. That code of justice punished jurists who formulated and interpreted laws created to justify criminal acts. There is a special place in court for people like Mr. Gonzales who manipulate the law to countenance criminality.
The list of criminals is seemingly endless.
Colin Powell, a man of otherwise impeccable integrity who devoted his life to the service of his country, knowingly allowed himself to be made the administration’s Knight Errant by trying to convince the world that war was necessary. Lawrence Wilkerson, who wrote Powell’s UN speech and had access to all the intelligence -- not just bits the administration wanted people to hear -- admitted on the PBS public affairs program Now on Feb. 3, 2006: “I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council.”
Former CIA director George Tenet knowingly gave the White House select bits of intelligence he knew it wanted as justification for invading Iraq. While National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice knew -- or “should have known,” as lawyers say -- that the pre-war intelligence was being cooked to prop up a shaky case for war and neither objected nor resigned. Don’t forget the Joint Chiefs of Staff who, in 2003, went along with dubious war plans, also without objection or resignation. Or the field generals and senior officers who oversaw not just prison camp torture but waged an indiscriminate war on Iraqi civilians, particularly in Fallujah where white phosphorus shells rained down on innocent men, women and children cowering in their hovels. The website Baghdad Burning, written by a woman living in Iraq, also writes about how US troops break into homes in the middle of the night for no reason while ignoring what she calls “the vicious civil war” being fought on the country’s streets every day.
At home, FBI Director Robert Mueller violates his oath of office by allowing agents to illegally spy on citizens only exercising their constitutional right of protest. Michael Chertoff, who is so incompetent running Homeland Security his behavior borders on criminal, is quietly spending $387 million with a Halliburton subsidiary to construct detention camps at secret locations across America to house up to several hundred thousand people for the undefined “rapid development of new programs.” And don’t forget Karl Rove, who orchestrated the theft of not just one but two presidential elections, new evidence dribbling out now reveals.
The list is long, as depressing as it is frightening.
Yet equally depressing is the silence of Democrats, the news media and ordinary citizens. The Democrats look cowed, the news media is a placid mouthpiece accepting administration talking points, and ordinary citizens are afraid. “Please don’t send me your investigative reporting or political columns by e-mail,” a long-time friend wrote to me by snail mail a few months ago. “I’m afraid it will trigger NSA computers and make me a target.” It took the funeral of Coretta Scott King for even a few people of conscience to “speak truth to the powerful” in the tradition of black churches, saying to Pres. Bush’s face the unpleasant realities that many are thinking.
Democracy in America may not be dead but it is in critical condition.
People who lived through Watergate remember how Richard Nixon tried stealing the Constitution and the crisis he provoked as a result. Yet today, there is a far stealthier, more powerful and darkly insidious effort afoot to undermine and even destroy more than 230 years of American democratic ideals, liberal political thought, and tradition of dissent and debate.
When the huge task of writing the Constitution was finally completed, Benjamin Franklin emerged from the building in Philadelphia where the convention was held to be confronted by a woman waiting word. “What did you give us, Mr. Franklin?” she asked. Franklin laid his hand on her shoulder and replied, “A democracy, madam, if you can keep it.”
The question today remains,
as it was in Franklin’s time, can America keep its democracy?
James Charles is an independent investigative journalist and writer, an American who lives in Toronto.
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