The Impeachment of George W. Bush | The Nation


The Impeachment of George W. Bush

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The Failure to Take Care

Listen to Elizabeth Holtzman make the case for George W. Bush's impeachment on the September 24 episode of RadioNation with Laura Flanders.

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Elizabeth Holtzman
Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman is co-author of Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney...

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Neither Congress nor the courts have taken the exam­ple to heart and stood firmly against presidential crimes or serious misconduct.

Bush lied. People died. Will anyone be prosecuted?

Upon assuming the presidency, Bush took an oath of office in which he swore to take care that the laws would be faithfully executed. Impeachment cannot be used to remove a President for maladministration, as the debates on ratifying the Constitution show. But President Bush has been guilty of such gross incompetence or reckless indifference to his obligation to execute the laws faithfully as to call into question whether he takes his oath seriously or is capable of doing so.

The most egregious example is the conduct of the war in Iraq. Unconscionably and unaccountably, the Administration failed to provide US soldiers with bulletproof vests or appropriately armored vehicles. A recent Pentagon study disclosed that proper bulletproof vests would have saved hundreds of lives. Why wasn't the commencement of hostilities postponed until the troops were properly outfitted? There are numerous suggestions that the timing was prompted by political, not military, concerns. The United States was under no imminent threat of attack by Saddam Hussein, and the Administration knew it. They delayed the marketing of the war until Americans finished their summer vacations because "you don't introduce new products in August." As the Downing Street memo revealed, the timeline for the war was set to start thirty days before the 2002 Congressional elections.

And there was no serious plan for the aftermath of the war, a fact also noted in the Downing Street memo. The President's failure as Commander in Chief to protect the troops by arming them properly, and his failure to plan for the occupation, cost dearly in lives and taxpayer dollars. This was not mere negligence or oversight--in other words, maladministration--but reflected a reckless and grotesque disregard for the welfare of the troops and an utter indifference to the need for proper governance of a country after occupation. As such, these failures violated the requirements of the President's oath of office. If they are proven to be the product of political objectives, they could constitute impeachable offenses on those grounds alone.

Torture and Other Abuses of Power

President Bush recently proclaimed, "We do not torture." In view of the revelations of the CIA's secret jails and practice of rendition, not to mention the Abu Ghraib scandal, the statement borders on the absurd, recalling Nixon's famous claim, "I am not a crook." It has been well documented that abuse (including torture) of detainees by US personnel in connection with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has been systemic and widespread. Under the War Crimes Act of 1996 it is a crime for any US national to order or engage in the murder, torture or inhuman treatment of a detainee. (When a detainee death results, the act imposes the death penalty.) In addition, anyone in the chain of command who condones the abuse rather than stopping it could also be in violation of the act. The act simply implements the Geneva Conventions, which are the law of the land.

The evidence before us now suggests that the President himself may have authorized detainee abuse. In January 2002, after the Afghanistan war had begun, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advised President Bush in writing that US mistreatment of detainees might be criminally prosecutable under the War Crimes Act. Rather than order the possibly criminal behavior to stop, which under the Geneva Conventions and the War Crimes Act the President was obligated to do, Bush authorized an "opt-out" of the Geneva Conventions to try to shield the Americans who were abusing detainees from prosecution. In other words, the President's response to reports of detainee abuse was to prevent prosecution of the abusers, thereby implicitly condoning the abuse and authorizing its continuation. If torture or inhuman treatment of prisoners took place as a result of the President's conduct, then he himself may have violated the War Crimes Act, along with those who actually inflicted the abuse.

There are many other indications that the President has knowingly condoned detainee abuse. For example, he never removed Defense Secretary Rumsfeld from office or disciplined him, even though Rumsfeld accepted responsibility for the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, admitted hiding a detainee from the Red Cross--a violation of the Geneva Conventions and possibly the War Crimes Act, if the detainee was being abused--and issued orders (later withdrawn) for Guantánamo interrogations that violated the Geneva Conventions and possibly the War Crimes Act.

More recently, the President opposed the McCain Amendment barring torture when it was first proposed, and he tacitly supported Vice President Cheney's efforts to get language into the bill that would allow the CIA to torture or degrade detainees. Now, in his signing statement, the President announced that he has the right to violate the new law, claiming once again the right as Commander in Chief to break laws when it suits him.

Furthermore, despite the horrors of the Abu Ghraib scandal, no higher-ups have been held accountable. Only one officer of any significant rank has been punished. It is as though the Watergate inquiry stopped with the burglars, as the Nixon coverup tried and failed to accomplish. President Bush has made no serious effort to insure that the full scope of the scandal is uncovered or to hold any higher-ups responsible, perhaps because responsibility goes right to the White House.

It is imperative that a full investigation be undertaken of Bush's role in the systemic torture and abuse of detainees. Violating his oath of office, the Geneva Conventions and the War Crimes Act would constitute impeachable offenses.

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