The Nation

Human Rights, Democracy, the US, and Syria

I spent a few days in Damascus at the end of February, and was able to get a ground reality view of the effects of the Bush administration's (former) campaign for the forced 'democratization' of Middle Eastern societies on the work of Syrian citizens with long experience struggling for human rights and democracy in their country.

Bottom line: "Very bad indeed."

That was the verdict rendered on the Bushites' 'democratization' campaign by Danial Saoud, the President of the venerable Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms in Syria (CDF).

Saoud was himself a political prisoner from 1987 through 1999, and has been President of the CDF since August 2006. He was adamant that what Syria's rights activists need most of all right now is a resolution of their country's state of war with Israel.

Speaking of Condoleezza Rice he said,

    Her pressure on the regime had a very bad effect for us. Now, for 18-24 months the Americans and Europeans have put a lot of pressure on the regime-- but the regime then just pushes harder on us.

Mazen Darwish, who is Saoud's colleague in the CDF's three-person Presidential Council, told me,

    Before the US invasion of Iraq, people here in Syria liked us, the human rights activists, and we had significant popular sympathy. But since what happened in Iraq, people here say 'Look at the results of that!'

Saoud stressed that for Syrians, the question of Israel's continued occupation of Syria's Golan region itself constitutes a significant denial of the rights of all the Syrian citizens affected-- both those who remain in Golan, living under Israeli military occupation rule there, and those who had fled when Israel occupied Golan in 1967 and have had to live displaced from their homes and farms for the 40 years since then. "Golan is Syrian land, and we have all the rights to get it back," he said.

In addition, he and the other rights activists I talked with pointed to the fact that the continuing state of war between Syria and Israel has allowed the Syrian regime to keep in place the State of Emergency that was first imposed in the country in 1963. "All these regimes in this area say they are postponing the issue of democracy until after they have solved the issues of Golan and Palestine," he said.

    So let's get them solved! Everything should start from this. The people in both Syria and Israel need peace. We need to build a culture of peace in the whole area.

... The CDF is working hard to build this culture.

Both men pointed out the numerous contradictions and ambiguities in the policy the US has pursued regarding democratization in Syria. Darwish noted that, "When the US had a good relationship with Syria, in 1991, Danial was in prison-- and the US didn't say anything about that." These two men, and other rights activists I talked with also noted that more recently, even during the Bushites' big push for 'democratization' in Syria in 2004-2005, the Bushites were still happy to benefit from Syria's torture chambers by sending some suspected Al-Qaeda people there to be tortured. (Canadian-Syrian dual citizen Maher Arar was only the most famous of these victims. In September 2005, Amnesty International published this additional list.)

Over the past year, two processes have been underway in Syria that seem to confirm these activists' argument that US pressure on the Damascus regime has been detrimental to their cause. Firstly, the rapid deterioration in the US's power in the region has considerably diminished Washington's ability to pressure the Syria regime on any issues, and Damascus has become notably stronger and self-confident than it was a year ago. For some evidence of this, see my latest interview with Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem, serialized here, here, and here.

Secondly, over the same period, the situation of human rights activists within the country seems to have improved some.

Saoud told me that the number of (secular) political prisoners in the country is now less than 20. Indeed, the day we talked, about 16 Kurdish and student activists who had been held for less than a month had just been released. He said "No-one knows how many Islamist activists are in detention... We don't hear about them until they come to court." He said, "They don't torture people like Anwar al-Bunni or Michel Kilo, or the others who were detained last year for having signed the Beirut-Damascus Declaration." He indicated, however, that it was very likely that many of the Islamist detainees had been tortured. (Human Rights Watch's recently released report for 2006 states that in Syria, "Thousands of political prisoners, many of them members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and the Communist Party, remain in detention.)

... Meanwhile, the main factor dominating political developments in Syria as in the rest of the Middle East, is the continued and extremely painful collapse of conditions inside Iraq. Syrians have watched that collapse in horror. Their country has received and given a temporary refuge to more than a million Iraqis (a considerable burden on their nation, equivalent to the US taking in some 17 million refugees within just a couple of years.) And since Iraq's collapse has occurred under a Washington-advertised rubric of "democratization", the whole tragedy in Iraq has tended to give the concept a very bad name, and has caused Arabs and Muslims throughout the Middle East to value political stability much, much more than hitherto.

Under those circumstances, it is very moving to still hear people living in Arab countries talking about the need for democracy. But when they do so, they are very eager to distance themselves from the coerciveness inherent in Washington's recent 'democratization' project. And they all-- regime supporters and oppositionists, alike--stress the need for moves toward democratization to grow out the local people's needs and priorities, rather than the geostrategies pursued by distant Washington.

Cluster Bombs and New Nukes

Good news from Belgium. After forty-six nations--including Britain, Canada, and Germany--met in Oslo in February and agreed to work towards a global ban on cluster bombs over the next year, Belgium became the first nation to make investing in companies that produce the weapons a crime.

Under the new Belgian law, the government would publish a list of manufacturers and "prohibit banks from offering credit to cluster bomb makers and from owning shares or bonds in these companies."

Cluster bombs are spread over vast areas and many unexploded "bomblets" lie dormant for years. (The UN estimates that as many as 40 percent of 4 million bomblets dropped by Israel in Lebanon failed to explode on impact, and the weapons have recently been used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo as well). Civilians--especially children who are attracted to "their small size and bright colors"--are often the people who detonate them. An estimated 60 percent of the victims in Southeast Asia are children. According to organizers, the Oslo conference was spearheaded in order to "avoid a potential humanitarian disaster posed by unexploded cluster munitions." The 46 participating nations approved a declaration to "conclude by 2008 a legally binding international instrument [to] prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians."

The United States was noticeably absent from the Oslo conference (as were China and Russia). This is not surprising, since the Bush Administration continues to move towards a renewed arms race. At this critical moment when we are pushing Iraq and North Korea to abandon any ambitions to become a nuclear power, the Bush Administration is attempting to build "the first new nuclear warhead produced by the United States in more than 20 years." (This after the Administration's effort to build a nuclear "bunker buster" weapon was thwarted by the normally "see no evil hear no evil" Republican Congress).

Fortunately, there is opposition to the latest chapter in the Bush Administration's "what else can we do to piss off the world?" approach to...well, everything. Senator Dianne Feinstein told Walter Pincus of the Washington Post that she is "100 percent opposed" to the new weapon--the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). But the netroots' not-so-favorite Democrat, Representative Ellen Tauscher, said that she is "encouraged" by the new nuclear plan--perhaps because Livermore National Laboratory was selected to design the weapon and it's located in her district.

This is a perfect moment for readers of this column to send a letter to Tauscher (2459 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515; or by e-mail if a resident of her district), letting her know that the world doesn't need another nuclear weapon. In fact, if she wants to do a great service she might not only work against this new nuke but get the United States on board with 46 other nations to ban the cluster bomb too.

Faggot Feud

So Ann Coulter called John Edwards a "faggot." All this proves is that the woman's gaydar is seriously on the fritz. Last year she diagnosed Bill Clinton as a "latent homosexual" whose "promiscuity" is "reminiscent of a bathhouse." Then on Hardball she called Al Gore a "total fag." Meanwhile, Ted Haggard and Mark Foley stage 120 Days of Sodom right under her nose, and all she can say when confronted with the goods is "who knew Congressman Foley was a closeted Democrat?"

Ann Coulter couldn't find a homosexual at a Barbra Streisand concert, in San Francisco, on gay pride, if Elton John bitch slapped her in the face. I shudder to think what would become of her on Gay, Straight or Taken?

What really has me peeved though is not Coulter's misfiring gaydar, but the histrionic response from Democrats and gay leaders alike. Here's HRC head honcho Joe Solmonese:

"To interject this word into American political discourse is a vile and disgusting way to sink the debate to a new, all-time low. Make no doubt about it, these remarks go directly against what our Founding Fathers intended and have no place on the schoolyard, much less our country's political arena."

Likewise, DNC chief Howard Dean called Coulter's remarks "hate-filled and bigoted." "This kind of vile rhetoric is out of bounds," said Dean while calling on Republican presidential candidates to denounce Coulter's remarks.

Howie, Joe, listen, don't get your panties all in knot over this Coulter-faggot business. What's so "vile," "disgusting," and "low" about being (called) a faggot in the first place?

Let's ponder the possible meanings behind our village idiot's latest ramblings. Surely not even Coulter can believe that Edwards is actually gay (unless she's knows something we don't -- an unlikely scenario). So perhaps she intends to tar Edwards with a patently false but nonetheless toxic slur. This is puerile name-calling to be sure. In Coulter's twisted little mind, "faggot" is an insult, not necessarily because it's true, but because "faggot" is so radioactive that even to be called one is damaging.

But this homophobic logic is exactly what Dean and Solmonese recapitulate in their over-zealous response. One can only believe that being called a faggot is "vile," "digusting" and "low" if one believes, as Coulter might, that being a faggot is vile, disgusting and low. Do Howard Dean and Joe Solmonese believe that?

It's also clear that Coulter's hopelessly confused "Democrats" and "Gays." (Freebie for Ann: Democrats tax and spend; fags just spend!) Why would Coulter cross the two? Because Democrats like Edwards care about poverty, healthcare and inequality? Because they're not ready to go all Dr. Strangelove on Iran? Because they don't shoot quails and buddies like manly man Cheney? What's so "vile," "disgusting" and "low" about that?

Fags like myself have been trying to rehabilitate faggotry for years, and it's time we're joined by our liberal friends. Edwards hasn't responded to Coulter yet, but when he does, he should step up to the plate. After all, there is something gay-ish about him. He's pretty. He's passionate. He spends a lot of time on his hair. And what's wrong with that? He should toss his Nancy Boy locks back at Coulter and say, "Faggot? I own that word."

Then maybe one day, as Toni Morrison once honored Bill Clinton by calling him our first black president, I can bestow upon Edwards the title of First Fag.

Fighting for the Right to Organize

Working people scored at least a temporary victory Thursday when the House voted for legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions. (Thanks to all Nation readers who heeded my call to lobby their reps this past week.)

The Employee Free Choice Act would allow workers to form a union by individually signing cards rather than having to participate in a secret-ballot election. Union officials called it the most important piece of pro-labor legislation to pass a house of Congress in decades.

The legislation, which passed 241-185 on a mainly party-line vote (two Dems voted against the bill, 13 Republicans voted for it) faces an uphill journey to gain the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster and pass in the Senate. The White House also announced Wednesday that President Bush would veto the bill if it reaches him.

But, despite the improbability of the bill becoming law in this Congress, the passage of the EFCA is nonetheless hugely important. As Miss Laura writes on Daily Kos, in order to defeat the bill and satisfy their corporate masters, "Republicans will have to go on record against workers. Not against unions, but against the millions of non-union workers in this country who want to join unions. Democrats are forcing them to lay that contempt for workers bare before the nation."

This is all for the good and stranger, more unexpected things have happened than this bill passing the Senate. Numerous groups as well as organized labor are ramping up their efforts for the upcoming Senate battle over this legislation. By making a donation to American Rights at Work, you can help provide critical support. Click here for more info on what American Rights is doing to defend the interests of US workers and watch this space for more info on the next stage of this battle.

The debate on the House floor prior to yesterday's vote was unusually impassioned. Rep. George Miller took the cake in making the case for the act. Check it out....

Libby Trial: More Waiting, More Jury Notes

The jurors in the obstruction of justice trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby left early on Friday. But they do appear still to be diligently working through their review of the case. Before knocking off for the weekend, the jurors sent two notes to Judge Reggie Walton. The first note referred to one of the allegedly false statements Libby made to the FBI and grand jury investigating the CIA leak. This statement is part of the overall obstruction of justice count. "Are we supposed to evaluate the entire Libby transcripts (testimony) or would the court direct us to specific pages/line," it read. "Thank you."

The other note dealt with an overarching issue:

We would like clarification of the term "reasonable doubt." Specifically, is it necessary for the government to present evidence that it is not humanly possible for someone not to recall an event in order to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

How to interpret these communications? The jurors are fixing on both the specifics of the charges and on the larger themes of the case. They may be some conflicting views within the jury room. But these clues suggest the jurors are not yet stuck.

The second note is intriguing. Fitzgerald's case is partly based on the premise that if Vice President Dick Cheney, Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, senior CIA official Robert Grenier, and vice presidential spokesperson Cathie Martin each told Scooter Libby around June 9 to June 12, 2003, that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and if Libby talked about Valerie Wilson in the next few weeks with CIA briefer Craig Schmall, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, and New York Times reporter Judith Miller, then Libby had to be lying when he told the FBI and grand jury that by July 11, 2003, he had forgotten completely about the wife. So completely that when Meet the Press host Tim Russert supposedly told him on July 11 about Wilson's wife and her CIA connection, Libby believed he was learning this fact "anew" and was even surprised by it.

Russert has testified he didn't tell Libby about Wilson's wife because he knew nothing about her until the leak blowing her cover appeared in Robert Novak's column three days later. But put that aside for a moment. The issue here is whether Libby's tale is plausible. He told the FBI and the grand jury not that his conversation with Russert rang a bell and reminded him of what he had once known about her but that he was learning this information about Valerie Wilson as if for the first time. In fact, he told the grand jury that at the time of the Russert phone call he didn't even know Joseph Wilson had a wife. Fitzgerald has asserted that Libby cooked up this story to protect himself and the vice president from the criminal investigation related to the leak.

Libby was pleading selective and total amnesia about one particular fact. The jurors may not be buying this. But they seem to be pondering what the standard of disbelief should be in order to declare him guilty not of misremembering but of purposeful lying. They appear to be asking if special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has to prove that Libby's account is not "humanly possible" to win a conviction or if one can reasonably assume that such a tale of memory loss is implausible.

This is an important question that takes the jurors to one of the central points of the case. I'm not going to guess whether this indicates the jurors are closer to a conviction or an acquittal (or a hung jury). But they certainly seem to be thinking deeply about the matter and paying close attention to the details. Perhaps their deliberations will be swayed by the answers Walton provides them. On Friday afternoon, the judge announced he would deal with these matters first thing Monday morning.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Black Snake Groan

I saw Hustle and Flow, and while I liked, even admired, parts of the film, I could never get over the fact that the movie seemed to simply refuse to interrogate or grapple with its lead character's misogyny and the problematics of his relationship to the women he pimped. That's not to say I wanted some kind of judgement from the film of the character, or for him to get some comeuppance, but the movie seemed to think we should be rooting for its lead simply because he was a guy with a dream, and I didn't have any interest in doing that.

So, though I haven't seen Black Snake Moan, the new film from Hustle and Flow's writer/director, Dana Stevens' review seems spot on to me:

I guarantee that the words provocative, bold, and courageous will be bandied about in discussions of this movie, and they won't be entirely misplaced. Writer and director Craig Brewer, who made 2005's Hustle and Flow, has a fine sense of locale (here, the Tennessee countryside), a way of coaxing thrilling performances from actors, and terrific taste in music. But can we just start with something very basic here? Chaining someone to your radiator is wrong. Depriving a near-naked and recently assaulted stranger of the most basic physical liberty for days on end is a sick, perverse, and cruel thing to do. Black Snake Moan appears to be--or, worse, pretends to be--oblivious to that simple fact. And that obliviousness makes all of the movie's supposed risk-taking seem more like exploitation

UPDATE: Katha Pollitt writes in to point out that it's a bit absurd to endorse a review of a movie that you haven't seen as "spot on." Fair point. So let me clarify. In her review of the Black Snake Moan, Dana Stevens does a good job of articulating what I found troubling about Hustle and Flow, namely:

In that movie, Terrence Howard's character was meant to remain the focus of our attention and sympathy even after he threw one of his hookers out into the street with her baby as punishment for talking back. I never forgave the character for that act, and by the end of the movie, I couldn't have given a shit whether he achieved rap fame or not (with the "boo-hoo, I'm a pimp" song that he neither wrote nor sang by himself but ran around taking full credit for).

That's how I felt about that film. Since I haven't seen Black Snake Moan, I have no idea whether Craig Brewer transcends that in it or not. But Stevens point about what bothered her about Hustle and Flow struck a chord.

Will Blood Run in the Gutters (of the Iraq Memoirs)?

In recent days, we've have two reports on timing, when it comes to the future of the President's "surge" plan for Baghdad. According to Richard A. Oppel of the New York Times, "The plan, which calls for 17,000 additional troops in Baghdad, will continue until at least this fall, the second-ranking commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, told CNN on Wednesday. ‘I don't want to put an exact time on it, but a minimum of six to nine months.'" On the other hand, Simon Tisdale of the British Guardian reports that the new military "brain trust," headed by Lt. General David H. Petraeus, which has just surged into Baghdad's Green Zone, is operating on a more truncated schedule. Petraeus's men, who believe themselves to be working with too little of everything, especially boots on the ground--since the Iraqi government has once again not delivered its promised full contingents--have "concluded the US has six months to win the war in Iraq--or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat."

Give me a buck for every predicted six-to-nine month window of opportunity from the military or the White House in the last four years and I'd be rich as Croesus. Amid the hopeless chaos of Iraq, you can already hear various individuals preparing their exculpatory "exit strategies" from this war. So many key players are going to stab one another in the back with their various explanations for failure in the coming years that blood will run between the pages of the many memoirs still to be published.

Of course, for the neocons, the Bush White House, the Vice President and his crew, and various military and intelligence types, the real villains will not, in the end, be themselves. Count on this: The "weak-willed" American people will take the brunt of the official blame (with the "liberal" media, Democratic and Republican politicians who opposed the war, and the antiwar movement, as well as the incompetence of anyone but the speaker of the moment, thrown in for good measure).

As Ira Chernus pointed out recently, we've heard this tune before -- and once upon a time, in the post-Vietnam years, it ended up playing us for a long, long while. We lived eternally with "the Vietnam syndrome"--George H. W. Bush even thought he had "kicked" it with Gulf War I; now, is the Iraq version of the same heading our way? The question is: Will history repeat itself in the wake of an American defeat in the Middle East?

Here's the money paragraph in the Tisdale piece, which should have a Surgeon General's warning attached to it:

"Possibly the biggest longer-term concern of Gen Petraeus's team is that political will in Washington may collapse just as the military is on the point of making a decisive counter-insurgency breakthrough. According to a senior administration official, speaking this week, this is precisely what happened in the final year of the Vietnam war."

Mom, I tell you that fish I had hooked was at least as long as the boat and I was just bringing it in when you made me come home…

Vermont Puts Impeachment on the Table

NEWFANE, Vermont -- Cindy Sheehan and I are traveling Vermont this weekend, stopping in close to a dozen towns from Burlington to Brattleboro, to talk about why we think the president and vice president should be impeached -- and the essential role that Vermonters are playing in the process. We come not to tell the people of Vermont how to vote on impeachment resolutions at two dozen town meetings next week. That would be not just presumptuous but foolish. Frankly, the Vermont voters who have given America George Aiken, Ralph Flanders, Jim Jeffords, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders do not need any advice from us about how to make political choices.

Rather, we come to celebrate the wisdom of local activists Dan DeWalt, Ellen Tenney and the thousands of others who have chosen to embrace a Jeffersonian vision of how Americans relate to their federal government, and to take a little of that wisdom back to the rest of the country.

It was Thomas Jefferson who observed more than two hundred years ago that, "Yes, we did produce a near-perfect republic."

It was Jefferson, as well, who asked of those who would inherit that republic: "But will they keep it?"

The answer to that question, for this particular moment in history,will come from the Vermont town meetings that debate calls for theimpeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney next Tuesday. Last year, seven towns voted to impeach. This year, the numbers will multiply dramatically -- and town meetings in the neighboring states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts are taking it up, as well, this spring.

No, decisions made in town meetings across the Green Mountain State will not, in and of themselves, restore the republic -- which, rather than the punishment of individual men, is the purpose of impeachment. But, as Americans in towns and cities across this great country despair at the determination of their president to surge the country deeper into the quagmire that is Iraq and react with horror at courtroom revelations about the manner in which their vice president has used his office to manage attacks on the reputations and livelihoods of an administration critic and his spouse, Vermont can signal to the nation that there is an appropriate response to the crisis.

More importantly, Vermont can put that response -- impeachment -- backon the table for use by the American people and their Congress. Theattention to the votes cast by Vermonters will remind Americans that the founders did not intend for the people or their representatives toallow any president or vice president to act as "a king for four years."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was wrong to suggest, as she did during the heat of last fall's election campaign, that impeachment was "off the table."

No section of the Constitution can or should be rendered inoperable byany politician -- even a well-intentioned one.

The Constitution does not belong to the politicians. It belongs to allof us. And the medicines it prescribes for the ailments of the bodypolitic are ours to administer.

Jefferson argued that all power must ultimately rest with thepeople, believing that citizens at the grassroots would always be better suited than politicians in Washington to recognize the point at which friends of the republic must defend its democratic aspirations and the rule of law that underpins them. "It behooves our citizens to be on their guard, to be firm in their principles, and full of confidence in themselves," the author of the Declaration of Independence explained. "We are able to preserve our self-government if we will but think so."

Jefferson believed that the process of impeachment would at times begin outside of Washington, with petitions from the states. His manual for the conduct of Congress, written in 1800 and adhered to this day, mandates that Congress must accept such petitions and give them due consideration. Hence, the votes cast at town meetings across Vermont Tuesday can extend beyond symbolism. If the Vermont legislature responds to the message from the voters by conveying to Congress articles of impeachment, as several legislators have suggested it should, the struggle to hold the president and vice president to account will have been advanced. If Vermont's representative in the U.S. House, Peter Welch, chooses to sorespond, he can introduce articles of impeachment incorporating language from the resolutions adopted at Vermont's town meetings.

As the mother of a slain soldier who has proven that one person canconfront the most powerful man in the world and be heard, and as an author who has spent a lifetime examining the interplay between people and power, we come to Vermont to say that the impeachment process really can begin in the town halls and community centers of this state.

And, we are arguing, this is exactly as the founders intended.

The authors of the American experiment had a deep and healthy distrustof concentrated power, especially when that power was held by a regalfigure, be he identified as king or president. They crafted aConstitution that made no mention of God, corporations or political parties. They made no effort to establish a process for nominating candidates for the presidency, and gave only the barest outlines for the selection of the commander-in-chief -- an electoral college was established, but little preparation was made for how or when the electors would be chosen, let alone who would do the choosing.

The founders figured that the American people would figure out how tochoose their leaders.

They feared, however, that after the selection process was done,Americans would forget that they have the power -- and, indeed, theresponsibility -- to remove executives who transgress against not just the law but the rule of law. The oath that the president and vice president take binds them to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." A failure to do so, as identified by the people and acted upon by their elected representatives, forms the basis for sound articles of impeachment.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney have, with their manipulationof intelligence in a scheme to launch an unnecessary preemptive war,with their repeated refusals to cooperate with a Congress that issupposed to serve as a coequal branch of government, with their assaults on scientific inquiry in order to prevent a fact-based discussion of global warming by that Congress and the American people, with their violations of laws that prevent presidents from ordering secret spying on the American people, and with their abuses of positions of public trust to punish critics of the administration's policies have failed to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

They have created a Constitutional crisis.

Now, it is suggested that those who would address the crisis with thetools afforded them by the founders are doing harm to the politicalprocess and perhaps the nation. The claim that impeachment represents a dangerous diversion from the work of nations is at odds with everything we know and love about our country.

No less an American than James Madison said, after assuring that theConstitution would include a broad authority to sanction members of the executive branch, observed that "... it may, perhaps, on some occasion, be found necessary to impeach the President himself..." The occasion has arrived. The necessary arguments for the impeachment of the president -- and the vice president -- have been identified. That Vermonters are among the first to recognize the circumstance does not surprise us. Rather, it inspires us. This is why we have come: to share in a great democratic moment, and to carry the faith forward to other Americans in other states. It is the faith of the founders, a faith that is being restored by the people of Vermont.


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Libby Trial: Still Waiting--An Update

The below dispatch was filed on Thursday morning. On Thursday afternoon, Judge Reggie Walton called the attorneys for the government and the defense in the Libby trial into court. Why? The jury had sent him two requests. The jurors asked if they could cut out early on Friday at 2:00 pm. They also asked for a dictionary. The judge said yes to the Friday escape. He said no to the dictionary, explaining to the jury that if they had any questions about the definition of any word used in the instructions or the evidence they should consult with him, not a dictionary.

The meaning of all this? The jury is plowing ahead. And the jurors seem to be presuming they will not be done on Friday. As the judge said to the lawyers, "I assume they will not have a verdict tomorrow." But they are not yet stuck. Most of the jurors actually looked happy when they appeared in court. They did not appear frustrated, fed-up or upset. So the bottom-line hunch: they have a plan for reviewing the evidence and rendering a verdict--and there will be no resolution until next week.

Now for the earlier dispatch:

I'm still at the federal district courthouse waiting for the verdict in the obstruction of justice trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. But this just in: on Wednesday at 3:45 pm, the jurors sent a note to Judge Reggie Walton. It read in its entirety:

We would like another big Post-it pad. The large one for the easel.

The previous day, the jury had sent a question to the judge regarding Count Three of the indictment (which accuses Scooter Libby of lying to the FBI about statements he made to reporter Matt Cooper about former Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife). But by the time the judge was able to respond to the note on Wednesday morning, the jurors had already resolved the issue. "After further discussion," the jury foreperson wrote the judge, "we are clear on what we had to do. No further clarification needed. Thank you. We apologize."

After the matter--or non-matter--was resolved, the question was made public by the court. The jurors had asked, "Is the charge that the statement was made or about the content of the statement itself?" Reporters in the press room subsequently tried to discern precisely what the jurors were asking. It was not clear. Nor was the note a clue that pointed in any direction.

So what do these two notes mean? They suggest the jury is still hard at work, in the weeds, plodding through the details of the case--after six days of deliberation. The eleven jurors--one juror was booted because she came into contact with outside information on the case--are even on to their second easel pad. From that you can draw your own conclusions. I'm not making any guesses.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.