Each time I encounter constitutional attorney John Bonifaz I am more impressed with his grasp of contemporary political problems and historical analysis and with his ability to crisply articulate the issues before us. On Saturday afternoon he addressed 160 of us packed tightly into the meeting room of the Media Education Foundation in Northampton, MA. This was one of 350 such July 23 meetings throughout the country, marking the third anniversary of preparation of what is referred to in infrequent media accounts as the Downing Street Memo.
The gatherings were organized by Progressive Democrats of America, a rapidly growing national response to the steady centrist drift of the Democratic Party under Bill Clinton and John Kerry. PDA emerged from the Kucinich presidential campaign a year ago this week and now has chapters in many congressional districts around the country.
In February 2003 John Bonifaz was lead counsel in a federal lawsuit filed by soldiers, parents, and members of Congress challenging the authority of Mr. Bush to launch a war against Iraq, absent the congressional declaration of war required by the Constitution. A graduate of Brown and Harvard Law School, his earlier groundbreaking work in Massachusetts was on campaign finance reform. He is the author of Warrior King: The Case for Impeaching George Bush.
Mr. Bonifaz began his address with an historical analysis of the issue of war-making powers considered by those who wrote the Constitution. English kings had always held that power and the framers wished to make certain no individual held it in this country -- that it be reserved to a deliberative body.
Included, of course, in the sweeping critique that followed, were the failures of most members of Congress and Senator Kerry in particular to speak out on this responsibility when the question of going to war against Iraq arose three years ago. In addition to the impeachable offenses by members of the Bush administration later enumerated, the charge of "dereliction of duty" can be levied against members of Congress for allowing presidents to usurp this power -- In Korea, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, and twice in the case of Iraq. Not since World War II has Congress exercised its authority in this matter.
Media Education Foundation director Sut Jhally opened the meeting by showing a portion of Hijacking Catastrophe, a film they produced, in which Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others repeatedly said Iraq was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and threatened the US with weapons of mass destruction.
What has led to the current "resolution of inquiry" filed in the House International Relations Committee by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), "seeking all relevant materials," are the high crimes suggested by revelation of minutes of a Downing Street meeting in London three years ago. Mr. Bonifaz said that, by law, this resolution must be acted upon. It could lead to impeachment and conviction of Mr. Bush and members of his administration for a list of criminal offenses.
As first published May 1 of this year in The Sunday Times (London), on July 23, 2002, Prime Minister Tony Blair and members of his cabinet met in top secret to discuss the impending issue of Iraq. These notes say, in part, "Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." (emphasis added.) This was eight months prior to the invasion and at the beginning of a period of strident speeches by administration officials here about dangers Iraq posed to the US.
The London minutes outline several military options but continue ,"Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."
It was therefore necessary to "work up a plan" to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq to create "the legal justification for the use of force." Mr.Blair expressed a hope Saddam Hussein would provide justification by refusing to let inspectors in, but this did not happen. What followed was a charade of justification for a planned war of aggression and empire by going to the UN and asking Congress in October, 2002, for a resolution to authorize of use of force. The Republican leadership allowed only two days for debate, and Mr. Bush did not fulfill his own obligations under the resolution.
Closely linked is the ongoing story of exposure that his wife was an undercover CIA agent to punish Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Mr. Wilson had unraveled another of the administrationís lies for war -- that Iraq had made nuclear related purchases from Niger.
500,000 people recently petitioned the White House for answers these issues beg. Mr. Cheney refers to the documentary evidence as the "so-called Downing Street memo," but no one in either government has yet come forward to question their authenticity or accuracy. Those of us who publicly challenged the propaganda during the pre-war months -- in print, in the streets, and arrested in protests -- feel partially vindicated. Those responsible for the many thousands of dead, maimed, and mentally unhinged by an ongoing conflict prompted by greed and based entirely on lies should stand trial for their crimes.
Having experienced tyranny themselves, the framers of the Constitution detailed what the response should be in Article II, Section 4, "The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Mr. Bonifaz encourages all our voices be raised, that we be in the streets, so that this process may begin.