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Vitter's Close Call

Imagine this scenario: A young congressional aide who moonlights for an escort service receives a call from her madam. The woman who owns the service asks her to meet a customer at a certain spot and time. When the aide/escort arrives, she sees that the client is a member of Congress and sits on the very same committee where she works. Embarrassing? Uncomfortable? A potential scandal? They now each know a big secret about the other. She knows he is using an escort service. He knows she is working for that same service. What do they do? Is his--or her--political career in peril?

The records of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, a.k.a. the DC Madam, suggest that Republican Senator David Vitter came close to experiencing such an awkward moment when he served in the House of Representatives. These phone records indicate that Palfrey may have set Vitter up with an escort who was a staffer for a congressional committee that included Vitter as a member. But if the two did meet for an escort experience, Vitter escaped being found out by his (indirect) subordinate.

According to the aide/escort--whose name I'm not revealing--she would not have recognized Vitter. "It's entirely conceivable," she says, "that I encountered him [while working as an escort for Palfrey] and did not know it." This woman notes that she had been with the committee a brief time, had attended only a few of its meetings, and was not familiar with all of its members. "I wouldn't know him if I saw him," she says. Throughout her stint working for Palfrey, this woman notes, "I did not come across anyone I recognized, no public figures....We [escorts] didn't know them. They didn't know us."

Vitter has acknowledged calling Pamela Martin and Associates, the escort service Palfrey ran until 2006. "This was a very serious sin in my past," he said in a statement released to the Associated Press on July 9, after Time magazine notified his office that Vitter's phone number was on Palfrey's billing records. (A Hustler editor contacted Vitter's office minutes after a Time reporter did.) But Vitter, who has campaigned on family values and who argued in 1998 that President Bill Clinton had to be impeached for his immoral conduct, has refused to say anything specific about his use of the escort service, and he has declined to resign from the Senate. Vitter's office did not respond to a request for a comment for this story.

According to Palfrey, this is how her business worked. A prospective client would call a local Washington phone number. She would answer the call at her Vallejo, California, home. (Most of her billing records do not show these incoming calls.) The man would ask for an escort and perhaps make special requests. Palfrey would then phone her employees in Washington to find someone appropriate for the customer. Next, she would call the client back and confirm the session. These long-distance outgoing calls to her escorts and to the customers are listed on her phone bills. As she explains it, in certain instances one can determine which woman was dispatched to a client by looking at the phone numbers that appear before the phone number of the customer. On one phone bill, the number of the aide/escort appears before a phone number for Vitter.

The phone records are not conclusive evidence that this congressional aide and Vitter had a professional meeting outside the committee room. But Palfrey says that would be a reasonable reading of the documents. (Palfrey says she has no direct knowledge that Vitter was a client because she knew most of her customers by first names or aliases. She no longer has detailed records showing which escorts visited which clients.)

I am not naming the aide/escort because this woman, unlike Vitter, has not engaged in public hypocrisy. Also, I have no evidence she broke the law. (Palfrey claims her women engaged in fantasy role-playing with their customers; the government, in its prosecution of Palfrey, maintains she ran a prostitution ring.) This woman left Capitol Hill and Palfrey's business years ago. With the help of investigative reporter Dan Moldea, who first discovered Vitter's number on Palfrey's telephone bills while working with Larry Flynt, I found her. When I contacted her, she was unaware that Palfrey had been busted, that Palfrey had posted the escort service's telephone records on the Internet, or that Vitter had been caught in the scandal. She asked me not to use her name: "It was a long time ago."

It's a curious episode. Vitter might have hired an escort with whom he worked in Congress. In most circumstances, committee aides can recognize the lawmakers they serve. What might have happened had this aide done so with Vitter? Exposure? Intrigue? Danger? "It was apparently a very close call," the woman says. "This could make a great a screenplay." But in this situation--if it did come to pass--Vitter was lucky. He was not on her radar screen. The congressman would have been just another john.

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JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." 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.

Help Jesse Friedman Overturn his Wrongful Conviction

There was great news in this morning's inbox from Elisabeth Friedman, wife of Jesse Friedman. After running into wall after brick wall in his attempt to have his conviction overturned, Jesse's finally caught a break: A federal judge has granted his habeas corpus petition.

Jesse was one of numerous innocent victims of the wave of mass-child-sex-abuse cases that swept the country in the l980s and l990s. Convicted as a teenager of molesting boys who took computer classes from his father, who was also convicted, he served 13 years in prison for a crime that looks more and more like one that never happened. ( See the celebrated documentary Capturing the Friedmans for more on the case.) The ingredients common to sex-panic cases were all present: an over-zealous police and prosecutor, a hostile community, frenzied media, dubious therapeutic practices like recovered memory and hypnosis, immense pressure put on kids to say what the prosecution wanted to hear, evidence withheld from the defense, and so on. In the light of what we now know about false confessions, which minors are particularly likely to make, Jesse's plea bargain stands as yet more evidence that too often innocent people can be made to look guilty.

Our system of justice runs on money -- shouldn't be so, but that's the way it is. After almost 20 years entangled in the case, the Friedman family is reaching out for help. If you can contribute even $5 to Jesse's defense fund, you can help him take his fight to prove his innocence to the next level. You can make a donation through Paypal at www.FriedmanDefenseFund.org. Or you can write a check to NCRJ with Jesse Friedman on the memo line and mail it to National Center for Reason and Justice P.O. Box 230414 Boston MA 02123-0414.

Please help get the word out -- forward this e mail to your friends, post it on your blog. This case is about one person railroaded by the justice system, but it's also about all of us. Our system. Our justice.

Elisabeth's letter is long, but I'm quoting it in full and hope you'll read the whole thing. It gives a clear account of what's at stake in the upcoming phase of the case, and is also quite moving.

Dear Friends and Supporters,

After 20 years of fighting for justice, we finally have our firstsignificant victory. Jesse has been granted a hearing in FederalCourt. Finally we have the opportunity to call witnesses, depose thoseinvolved in the prosecution, and possibly have Jesse's convictionoverturned. The legal issues are somewhat complicated, but I'll tryto explain:

In the Federal appeal we raised three issues each relating to thewithholding of information which should have been provided to Jesseprior to trial. These were Constitutional violations and had we knownof any of this information at the time, Jesse would have mostcertainly have taken his case to trial rather than pleading guilty.

The following are three issues raised.

1) More than 100 children were present during the computer classes (atthe same time as the alleged abuse was going on) who told the police,I was there and nothing happened. This was never disclosed to thedefense.

2) As our lawyers put it: "There was a crucible of suggestion,intimidation, and falsification on the part of the police. Theprosecution failed to disclose exculpatory evidence showing that thepolice utilized aggressive suggestive and coercive interrogationtechniques they knew, or should have known, would yield falseallegations."

3) The use of hypnosis during therapeutic sessions resulted in asituation of potential "implanted memory" or "repressed memorysyndrome" and should have been disclosed to the defense at the time.

In her decision the federal judge ruled on the first two issues thatthe statute of limitations had expired and denied our petition. It isworthy to note that she did NOT rule our issues were meritless, merelythat they were time-barred.

However, on the third issue, relating to hypnosis, Judge Seybertordered a hearing to determine to what extent hypnosis was used, andhow gross a constitutional violation this newly discovered evidenceproves itself to be.

Our lawyer told us the chance of being granted a hearing from a habeascorpus was about as probable as walking into the corner deli andwinning a million dollars on a scratch off lottery ticket.

In our hearts we never thought it would be possible for Jesse to havea fair day in court. Nonetheless, we did everything possible to proveJesse's innocence. He never hurt those children. The lie perpetratedon his life was also perpetrated on the lives of those children whowere "accusers." The relentless questioning by the police, and thetherapists who used hypnosis on children as a means of elicitingtestimony, destroyed the lives of the children involved. Jesse hasbeen fighting not only to prove his innocence, but also to try andbring healing to those who have grown up believing they were sexuallyabused, when indeed they never were.

As a result of Jesse's conviction we live under the oppression andrestrictions of Megan's Law. There is no way to explain howdehumanizing and difficult this is. One example is a fear of reprisalfrom law enforcement, as well as the community, if we were to become parents.We live our life, always with a cloud of fear. This new chance forjustice not only gives us an opportunity to shed a light on the truth,it also gives us the small and tender hope that we may someday livenormal, simple lives.

Before I married Jesse, I knew our lives would be difficult, but Imarried him anyway. Even though it meant giving up on some things Ihold so completely dear (like my hopes of being a mother). I love himthat much. I love him more than I ever thought I could love at all.

We are overjoyed with having won a hearing, but we are also in shock:happy, terrified, wonderful immense shock.

I think perhaps one of the largest concerns is money, and the lackthere of. Jesse and I keep thinking of Michael Moore's movie "Sicko"with the story of the guy who looses his fingers on a table saw. Thedoctors tell him, "We can save the middle finger for $60,000 or thering finger $12,000." That is how we feel. I don't know if peoplerealize that justice goes for a high price, and that indeed a lack ofmoney often means a lack of justice.

As of now, where we stand, there is pretty much nothing left to paythe lawyers. The money Jesse got from his father's life insuranceclaim has long since evaporated in legal bills. This appeal was onlypossible because of a generous team of people donating time, money,support, and effort, most specifically Andrew Jarecki (the director ofCapturing the Friedmans) without whom there would have been no movie,and no appeal. It would no longer be fair to expect so much more fromAndrew for he has already given so much and continues to be awonderful friend.

Our lawyer, Ron Kuby, knew of our meager funding. While Mr. Kuby neveragreed to working pro bono, he did agree to do what he could with whatwas available, and he has done some outstanding work. This past Marchwe got what we thought would be the last bill from Ron and there wasno money to pay him. Out of the goodness of his heart he agreed tokeep working on the case in good faith, agreeing to wait and see,knowing I would do what I could to eventually pay him for all hiswork.

Because of this wonderful turn of events this case now stands to besignificantly more expensive than we ever had funding for. It is nolonger Mr. Kuby working late into the night on his laptop with a pileof books. It's now about hiring private investigators; tracking downwitnesses; finding experts on hypnosis; and full days in courtdeposing witnesses.

The thought of having to ask for money to help fund continue fightingthis case makes us feel terrible. It's just not the kind of thing thatfeels good to anyone. Especially knowing there were those who havealready donated to the defense fund. At this point, we just don't knowwhat else to do. There is really not much that I can say, just that,if it falls on your heart to give then please help, even if it's only$5. If a thousand people could give $5 that can make a significantdifference. I also ask that if you can pray, please pray that we willbe able to go into this hearing with everything we need to see justiceprevail.

Donations made to the National Center for Reason and Justice, whosponsor Jesse's case, are tax-deductible (as they are a 501(c)(3)organization). The NCRJ is an advocacy and issue-awareness groupdedicated to helping those much like Jesse. Donations can be made tothe NCRJ, allocated for Jesse Friedman, and mailed to:

National Center for Reason and Justice P.O. Box 230414 Boston MA02123-0414

Donations may also be made on-line via the Friedman Defense Fund.There is information and a link for Pay-Pal athttp://www.FriedmanDefenseFund.org. All that money will go to pay legalbills directly.

My mother once told me that people bow down to God because the weightof the world crushes them, not because they are particularlysubmissive. That is how it has always been with me. When my world getstoo heavy I bow down, because I can't always carry my heart when itgets so heavy. Jesse on the other hand has always had a mind-bogglingreservoir of strength. He carries the immense weight of theseinjustices with his head up, heart strong, one foot in front of theother, and none of this has been able to bring him down. This pastweek I have seen him bow down, not because he was crushed, but becausehe was in awe. He is in awe of seeing even just a chance of justice inhis life, and that is significant because justice and freedom arethings most of us take for granted.

Keep your eyes on the media, and check-in with Jesse's website forupdates and breakthroughs in the case.

Thank you so much for your support. Your kind letters have been awonderful influence on our lives.

Sincerely,

Elisabeth Friedman

A New Middle East Arms Race

The Bush Administration has a solution to the escalating arms race in the Middle East: sell more arms.

Under an Administration proposal, Saudi Arabia will get $20 billion of satellite-guided bombs, fighter jet upgrades and new navy ships over ten years to counteract Iran. Israel will get $30 billion over the same period to balance Saudi Arabia, a 43 percent increase compared to the last decade. Not to be left out, Egypt will receive $13 billion. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have also been promised a piece of the pie.

In the latest US-backed arms bonanza, everyone's a winner!

The pact with the Kingdom of Saud--home to 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, 45 percent of foreign fighters in Iraq and birthplace of Al Qaeda--in particular has prompted resistance inside Congress and human rights organizations.

Representatives Anthony Weiner and Jerry Nadler introduced a plan to block the deal on the steps of the Saudi consulate in New York City on Saturday. "We should remember that the high tech arms we gave to the Shah of Iran ended up in the Ayatollah Khomeini's hands," Nadler said. "The same thing could end up happening in Saudi Arabia."

If the US withdraws from Iraq, the Saudi royal family has pledged to arm Sunni military leaders and create new Sunni militias. An advisor to the Saudi government admitted in a November op-ed that Saudi intervention in Iraq "could spark a regional war."

In other words, the weapons the US is proposing to sell to the kingdom could likely end up in the hands of the very people we are currently targeting in Iraq.

Don't forget this picture from 1983 of a certain American official shaking hands with a certain ally-turned-dictator in Baghdad. If only Donald Rumsfeld were still around...

Newt's Pygmy Primary

Last week in Washington Newt Gingrich may or may not have compared the GOP candidates for president to a group of "pygmies."

When asked if he'd join the '08 fray, Newt, ever erudite, invoked Charles De Gaulle. "This is like going to De Gaulle when he was at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises during the Fourth Republic and saying, 'Don't you want to rush in and join the pygmies?'" he said at a dinner sponsored by the American Spectator. "I have no interest in the current political process."

But it seems as if Fred Thompson might win Gingrich's pygmy primary. Newt's longtime strategist, Rich Galen, recently signed up with the (to-be-announced-in-September) Thompson campaign. Gingrich and his wife dined with the Thompsons last month and he's said that if the former Tennessee Senator "runs and does well, then I think that makes it easier for me not to run."

What a relief! But given Gingrich's sordid personal history and chronic foot-in-month disease, an endorsement for Thompson could be more trouble than it's worth.

Censure and Impeachment: Take 2

New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey is easily the most dogged critic of Vice President Dick Cheney in the House of Representatives, and Hinchey has not exactly been soft on President Bush. So it comes as no surprise that Hinchey, a passionate progressive who stood up to the Bush administration when most of the Democratic candidates to replace Bush were cowering in corners of the Capitol, is preparing to introduce House versions of Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold's proposals to formally condemn the Bush administration "for falsifying its justification to attack Iraq, mismanaging the subsequent military occupation, and egregiously abusing the Constitution."

Hinchey is working with Feingold to develop language for censure resolutions that the ardent critics of the administration hope will quickly attract broad support after their introduction next week.

The first resolution from Feingold and Hinchey is expected to cite Bush and Cheney for making intentionally false statements about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and for misleading Congress and the public into believing Saddam Hussein had ties to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. In addition, it will score the president and vice president for failing to plan for the occupation of Iraq, distorting the reality on the ground as it deteriorated, and overstretching the military in order to maintain the administration's mad mission in Iraq.

The second resolution is expected to suggest that Bush, Cheney and other senior administration officials have blatantly disregarded the rule of law. It will focus on the administration's illegal NSA warrantless surveillance program, its extreme policies on torture, the abusive use of presidential signing statements, the politically-motivated firings of U.S. Attorneys and the failure of the administration to cooperate with congressional inquiries.

"The American people have reached a breaking point with this administration and they are demanding that Congress step up and hold the president, vice president, and others in the executive branch responsible for their actions," says Hinchey, who has been sounding the alarm about Cheney's wrongdoing for years. "While President Bush and Vice President Cheney continue to operate as if they are leaders of a monarchy, Congress should censure them and make it clear to this and future generations that their actions are entirely unacceptable. If Congress does not act to formally admonish this White House then the future of our democracy will be placed on a slippery slope in which other presidents may point to the actions of this administration as justification for further abuses of the Constitution. Congress cannot allow such abuses of power and law, which is why Senator Feingold and I will soon introduce these censure resolutions."

Feingold, who first proposed censuring Bush more than a year ago, has struggled to gain support from fellow Democrats in the Senate for any kind of demand for presidential accountability. So he was clearly delighted by the willingness of Hinchey to step up as an ally in the House.

"Congressman Hinchey has been a strong voice in opposition to the President's policies in Iraq and in defense of the Constitution," says Feingold. "I thank Congressman Hinchey for his willingness to stand up to this administration for its misleading statements leading up to and during our military involvement in Iraq, as well as its attack on the rule of law. I am working with Congressman Hinchey and others in crafting these censure resolutions condemning the damaging actions of this administration. Censure is about holding the administration accountable. Congress must be on the record repudiating the administration's misconduct, both for the American people, and for history."

The censure resolutions carry no formal penalty. Unmentioned in the Constitution or in the procedural rules of the House or Senate, a censure vote would not even have the authority to compel the president or vice president to respond to Congress. Yet, a rare rebuke from one or both houses of Congress would put Bush and Cheney on notice that they must either change their approaches in the final 18 months of their tenure or face an even stronger push for their impeachment and removal from office.

An honest review of the records of Bush and Cheney leaves little doubt that impeachment is warranted, and 14 members of the House have now signed on as cosponsors of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich's proposal to impeach Cheney. But for a Congress that has shown little taste for the serious work of upholding the Constitution, the censure resolutions offer what Feingold refers to as "moderate" response to administration wrongdoing.

Censure of Bush, Cheney and their underlings by the House or Senate would be meaningful. It would confirm that America has reached a too-long delayed "accountability moment." And, assuming that Bush and Cheney continue to respond to any congressional challenge like belligerent school boys rather than sworn defenders of the republic, it is highly unlikely that a renewed push to censure Bush and Cheney will undermine the burgeoning grassroots campaign for impeachment. Only if Bush and Cheney were to acknowledge their wrongs, change their policies and finish their terms as the model officials they have never been would a censure drive push impeachment off the table.

Demands for censure and impeachment ought to be seen as complimentary. They are both expressions of the desire of enlightened members of the legislative branch to begin holding errant executives to account.

Hinchey is right when he says that, "History must show that Congress stood up to this administration and formally condemned it."

Ultimately, history may ask less of Congress than the American people. The people are already expressing a desire for more than a formal condemnation of Bush and Cheney. Fifty-four percent, according to a recent American Research Group poll, want the vice president impeached. Support for impeaching the president hovers just below 50 -- and the anti-Bush, anti-Cheney numbers have been rising, rapidly, in recent months.

But a formal condemnation, in the form of censure resolutions, ought not be dismissed as a compromise or a deviation from the one true path of impeachment. Getting members of the House and Senate to sign on for censuring Bush and Cheney forces them to start thinking about the administration's lawlessness, it gets them on the record for accountability and it narrows the gap for the leap to impeach. ---------------------------------------------------------------------

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.'"

Rapture Ready

On July 16, I attended Christians United for Israel's annual Washington-Israel Summit. Founded by San Antonio-based megachurch pastor John Hagee, CUFI has added the grassroots muscle of the Christian right to the already potent Israel lobby. Hagee and his minions have forged close ties with the Bush White House and members of Congress from Sen. Joseph Lieberman to Sen. John McCain. In its call for a unilateral military attack on Iran and the expansion of Israeli territory, CUFI has found unwavering encouragement from traditional pro-Israel groups like AIPAC and elements of the Israeli government.

But CUFI has an ulterior agenda: its support for Israel derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil. In the end, all the non-believers - Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc. - must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation. Over a dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow. Among the rapture ready was Republican Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. None of this seemed to matter to Lieberman, who delivered a long sermon hailing Hagee as nothing less than a modern-day Moses. Lieberman went on to describe Hagee's flock as "even greater than the multitude Moses led out of Egypt."

Throughout CUFI's Israel Summit, videographer Thomas Shomaker and I were hounded by PR agents seeking to prevent us from interviewing attendees about the End Times. The conference, we were told, was about "one message" - evangelical Christians supporting Israel. We were instructed to only interview CUFI leaders capable of sticking to the talking point that their support for Israel has, as Hagee declared, "nothing to do with the End Times." But I was forbidden from asking Hagee about statements he made in his book, "Jerusalem Countdown," that appeared to blame Jews for their own persecution. After doing just that during a press conference, I was removed from the conference by off-duty DC cops summoned by members of Hagee's family.

I have covered the Christian right intensely for over four years. During this time, I attended dozens of Christian right conferences, regularly monitored movement publications and radio shows, and interviewed scores of its key leaders. I have never witnessed any spectacle as politically extreme, outrageous, or bizarre as the one Christians United for Israel produced last week in Washington. See it for yourself.

 

Romney v. Europe

What does Mitt Romney have against France? Campaigning this week in Iowa, Romney warned that, even though America's unhappy with the war, it's "not about to take a sharp left turn and put somebody in the White House who would turn America into a European-type state." The day before, in New Hampshire, Romney trotted out the old GOP red flag against "big government, big brother, big taxes." "That's where Europe went," he added "That's what got them the economic challenges they had." Old Mitt's sticking close to a campaign strategy memo, written by his top advisers and reported in the Boston Globe earlier this year, that advised him to make "European-style socialism" the enemy. "That's where Hillary and the Dems would take us," the memo said, "Hillary=France." (Romney's also taken to comparing Hillary Clinton to Karl Marx.)

Perhaps he could me more grateful to his one-time host country. As a young Mormon, Romney received a missionary draft deferment and spent two plus years attempting to convert the residents of Bordeaux and Paris to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. According to his one-time fellow missionary, Dane McBride, the usual answer was "Non, merci."

Though Romney organized the 2002 Winter games in Salt Lake City, he's apparently lost the Olympic spirit of global goodwill. Meanwhile, the Americans in Paris featured in Michael Moore's SICKO seem quite happy with France--fries and universal healthcare included.

A Commitment to the Constitution

The Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch and MoveOn.org have launched a vital campaign to put restoration of the Constitution on the agenda for Democratic presidential candidates -- just as the conservative American Freedom Agenda movement has done for Republican candidates.

CCR, Human Rights Watch and MoveOn have dubbed their initiative the American Freedom Campaign (AFC), and its goal is roughly parallel to that of the American Freedom Agenda movement launched by former Reagan administration lawyer Bruce Fein, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, veteran Republican strategist Richard Viguerie and American Conservative Union chairman David Keene: "to build grassroots support to restore checks and balances and reverse abuses of power by the executive branch."

Like the American Freedom Agenda, which has dogged Republican candidates to sign on for restoration of the Constitution -- with limited success, aside from an enthusiastic endorsement by Texas Congressman Ron Paul -- the CCR/Human Rights Watch/MoveOn campaign will urge presidential candidates to sign its "American Freedom Pledge."

The pledge reads:

We are Americans, and in our America we do not torture, we do not imprison people without charge or legal recourse, allow our phones and emails to be tapped without a court order, and above all we do not give any President unchecked power. I pledge to fight to protect and defend the Constitution from assault by any President.

The Constitution protects American Freedom. With checks and balances, and basic legal rights, it has prevented tyranny and safeguarded our liberty. Yet today, under the pretense of the "war on terror," the White House is dismantling the Constitution, concentrating power in the President and undermining the rule of law. THIS IS UN-AMERICAN.

I hereby join the American Freedom Campaign to educate my neighbors about the threat and urge my representatives to confront and correct these abuses of our America.

That's a sound statement, although it is not quite as specific as the American Freedom Agenda declaration, which asks candidates to pledge to:

* Prohibit military commissions whose verdicts are suspect except in places of active hostilities where a battlefield tribunal is necessary to obtain fresh testimony or to prevent anarchy;

* Prohibit the use of secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture or coercion in military or civilian tribunals;

* Prohibit the detention of American citizens as unlawful enemy combatants without proof of criminal activity on the President's say-so;

* Restore habeas corpus for alleged alien enemy combatants, i.e., non-citizens who have allegedly participated in active hostilities against the United States, to protect the innocent;

* Prohibit the National Security Agency from intercepting phone conversations or emails or breaking and entering homes on the President's say-so in violation of federal law;

* Empower the House of Representatives and the Senate collectively to challenge in the Supreme Court the constitutionality of signing statements that declare the intent of the President to disregard duly enacted provisions of bills he has signed into law because he maintains they are unconstitutional;

* Prohibit the executive from invoking the state secrets privilege to deny justice to victims of constitutional violations perpetrated by government officers or agents; and, establish legislative-executive committees in the House and Senate to adjudicate the withholding of information from Congress based on executive privilege that obstructs oversight and government in the sunshine;

* Prohibit the President from kidnapping, detaining, and torturing persons abroad in collaboration with foreign governments;

* Amend the Espionage Act to permit journalists to report on classified national security matters without fear of prosecution; and;

* Prohibit the listing of individuals or organizations with a presence in the United States as global terrorists or global terrorist organizations based on secret evidence.

Theoretically, Democratic and Republican candidates could sign on to both pledges. But let's accept for the time being that two campaigns are needed to address the damage done by the Bush/Cheney administration to our one Constitution.

Let's also accept that the conservative American Freedom Agenda has set the standard that the new American Freedom Campaign should adopt with regard to presidential candidates. When Republican candidates have refused to sign on to the American Freedom Agenda, the conservatives running that campaign have highlighted the fact with press statements that are sharply critical of the reluctant contenders.

After former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney begged off, Fein told the Boston Globe, "Mitt Romney's ignorance of the Constitution's checks and balances and protections against government abuses would have alarmed the Founding Fathers and their conservative philosophy."

The American Freedom Campaign should adopt a similar standard. It is not enough to hail those candidates who agree to defend the Constitution. It is also necessary to condemn those who fail to do so.

After all, if candidates won't commit to the Constitution during the campaign, it is a safe bet that they will not do so once they are in office.

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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.'"

Josh Marshall on Impeachment

What was once considered marginal is now mainstream. A majority of the country supports beginning impeachment proceedings against Vice-President Dick Cheney; and when it comes to his partner, Bush, the nation is evenly divided.

Legal experts make the case that the grounds for impeachment are stronger now than when the House threatened to impeach Nixon. The list of criminal acts and instances of executive overreach grows longer with each passing day. Constitutional crisis looms. And as my colleague John Nichols has said, (and written in our magazine this week)-- at a time of constitutional crisis, impeachment proceedings are the proper tonic.

That said, I've had as many questions as answers about the political value of pursuing impeachment proceedings--and The Nation has published strong views for and against. (For one of the strongest cases "For", see Elizabeth Holtzman's rigorous and powerful cover story, "The Case for Impeachment," published in January 2006; I'd argue that it was central spark to launching a movement that has now acquired extraordinary popular groundswell.)

What's fascinating to watch is how pragmatic political commentators are now beginning to see that impeachment may not be that radical a remedy--especially when confronted with a defiantly lawless Administration. Today, for example, respected political analyst/blogger/ writer Josh Marshall posted a must-read blog at TalkingPointsMemo.com.

He's still opposed to the movement to impeach Bush, but in a sign of how this political moment is shaping Marshall's reasoning, he writes:" Without going into all the specifics, I think we are now moving into a situation where the White House, on various fronts, is openly ignoring the Constitution, acting as though not just the law , but the Constitution itself , which is the fundamental law from which the statutes gain that force and legimitacy, doesn't apply to them. If this is allowed to continue, the defiance will congeal into precedent. And the whole structure of our system of government will be permanently changed."

Marshall admits that his position on impeachment hasn't changed. Yet. But it is clear that he is a man on an intellectual and political journey when it comes to this issue. He ends by noting: " I think we we're moving on to dangerous ground right now, more so than some of us realize. And I'm less sure now under these circumstances that operating by rules of 'normal politics' is justifiable or acquits us of our duty to our country." That is a central question: How do we acquit ourselves of our duty to our country? Marshall remains opposed to impeachment proceedings on pragmatic grounds. I understand his thinking and reasoning.

And while, like Marshall, I've wrestled with the political value of impeachment proceedings, in these last weeks and months it seems increasingly clear that we as citizens have a higher moral duty to our country, its fate and future generations. While some have argued that impeachment may create a constitutional crisis, it may well be that Impeachment is the cure for our constitutional crisis.