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March 1, 2012

Un-Cheating Justice: Two Years Left to Prosecute Bush

Filed under: Impeachment Progress News — Jodin Morey @ 10:31 pm

Via Smirking Chimp by David Swanson — Elizabeth Holtzman knows something about struggles for justice in the U.S. government. She was a member of Congress and of the House Judiciary Committee that voted for articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in 1973. She proposed the bill that in 1973 required that “state secrets” claims be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. She co-authored the special prosecutor law that was allowed to lapse, just in time for the George W. Bush crime wave, after Kenneth Starr made such a mockery of it during the Whitewater-cum-Lewinsky scandals. She was there for the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978. She has served on the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, bringing long-escaped war criminals to justice. And she was an outspoken advocate for impeaching George W. Bush.

Holtzman’s new book, coauthored with Cynthia Cooper, is called “Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law and Plotted to Avoid Prosecution — and What We Can Do About It.” Holtzman begins by recalling how widespread and mainstream was the speculation at the end of the Bush nightmare that Bush would pardon himself and his underlings. The debate was over exactly how he would do it. And then he didn’t do it at all.

Holtzman ends her book by pointing out that legal accountability can come after many years, as in the case of various Nazis, or of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, or of the murderers of civil rights activists including Medgar Evers.

In between, for the bulk of the book, Holtzman, a former district attorney, lays out the prospects for a prosecution of Bush and others on charges of lying to Congress about the grounds for war, wiretapping Americans, and conspiring to torture. This is an excellent sampling of the many horrors on the list of Bush’s abuses, and clearly the three areas in which Holtzman believes a prosecution would stand the best chance of success. Her analysis of the war lies parallels and builds on that of Elizabeth de la Vega, another former prosecutor who has written on the topic. Holtzman adds an analysis of the steps Bush took to protect himself from prosecution in this and each other area. She also examines his possible legal defenses, finding some of them strong and others easily overcome.

In each area Holtzman finds charges that would stick, if our laws were enforced. She also finds charges that would have stuck, had the statute of limitations not elapsed, and others for which a couple of years yet remain. Holtzman believes charges for conspiring to defraud the government with war lies could be brought until January 20, 2014. She also believes that charges for violation of FISA could be brought until that same date, pointing out that changes made to the law have not provided immunity for prior violations of what the law used to be, and that immunity has been granted from civil suits but not from criminal prosecution. Charges of torture, Holtzman concludes, could be brought at any time in the future.

Holtzman argues for lengthening the statutes of limitations for grave abuses of power, for creating a special prosecutor, restoring the War Crimes Act, reclaiming protection against unchecked surveillance, recovering missing records, pursuing civil cases, impeaching torture lawyer turned judge Jay Bybee, and looking abroad for hope and change. She sees some chance of the International Criminal Court pursuing charges of torture.

This book is an ideal guide for a prosecutor with nerve and decency, although we haven’t found one in this country in the past several years. Other than Kurt Daims who is running for the office of Town Grand Juror in Brattleboro, Vermont, which voted to direct its police to indict Bush and Cheney four years ago, I’m not aware of any prosecutors in the United States with plans to pursue this kind of justice.

Glaringly absent from Holtzman’s book, despite its 2012 publication date, is any significant mention of the approach that President Obama has taken. There’s not one word about “looking forward, not backward,” not even so much as one tangential reference to Obama’s public instructions to Attorney General Eric Holder, no analysis of the intense effort that the Justice Department, State Department, and White House have pursued to protect Bush and Cheney from accountability, no mention of the ways in which Obama has continued a similar pattern of criminality — a state of affairs which, of course, might explain his reluctance to allow the enforcement of laws against his predecessor.

I don’t think it’s an unfair criticism to object that a book has left out a large but intimately related topic, one that apears to have been carefully avoided. Partisan prosecution of crimes and non-crimes by Republicans under President Clinton has been aggravated by Republican defensiveness and Democratic spinelessness under Bush. But it is the Democratic switch to defending all presidential wrongdoing since 2008 that has put the largest nails into the coffin of legitimate rule by law in this country. Bush’s crimes have been legitimized. Obama has claimed the power to torture as he deems necessary, the power to imprison and rendition as he sees fit, the power to murder any human being including U.S. citizens and children as he and he alone declares necessary, and powers of state secrecy that Nixon and Cheney never dreamed of. While Bush lied the Congress into a war that a reasonably intelligent 8 year old could have seen through, Obama has made the launching of wars a matter for the president alone. And that’s just fine with Democrats. Surely Holtzman is aware that this partisanship is a cancer, that it has ruined the power of impeachment and done away with truly independent special prosecutors, and that the purpose of accountability is to halt the ongoing acceptance of crime.

I have to quibble as well with Holtzman’s lowballing of the Iraq war death count by two orders of magnitude. I know everybody does it, but I still find it grotesque.

And yet I have to strongly recommend that this book be read and presented to every prosecutor in this country, including the seemingly shameless Eric Holder. We’ve got 23 months.


1 Comment

  1. I thought the War Crimes Act was still in effect. Why does past-NLG president, Marjorie Cohn continue to mention it and its serious-egregious violation(s) if it isn’t? Did the “Patriot Act”, the “Military Commissions Acts” for 2006 and/or 2010, the “John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (NDAA)”, and/or the 2012 NDAA, etc., change all of that, at least concerning the War Crimes Act? I would greatly appreciate some clarification, please. Thank you.

    Comment by S. Wolf Britain — March 7, 2012 @ 7:30 am

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• If we impeach Bush, we’ll get President Cheney!
The first impeachment resolution introduced by McKinney included Bush, Cheney, and Rice. Although, even if we only initially pursue Bush, initiating the impeachment process will lead to an investigation that will implicate lots of people in the Bush administration who are guilty of committing crimes, including Cheney.

No matter who we get to replace Bush, we’ll be showing those in power that anyone who breaks the law will be held accountable.

• Promoting impeachment will seem too “extreme.”
Demanding that crimes be investigated is NOT extreme. Some previous impeachment attempts were considered extreme because they were pursued for actions that didn't rise to the level of a Constitutional crisis, which is what the impeachment tool is meant to be used for. Nixon's impeachment, however, was bipartisan.

  • We should wait to impeach...
Wait to impeach? We've waited 3 or more years too long already. We had enough evidence to impeach years ago. Remember, an impeachment only means you have enough evidence to warrant a trial, just like an indictment. Our congress people didn't take an oath to bipartisanship. They took an oath to the Constitution. Besides which, our troops, Iraqi civilians, and our own civil liberties are all waiting for this.
 
• Before we impeach, we should get some legislation passed...
And with unconstitutional Presidential Signing Statements, veto power, and the power of "Commander in Chief" at his disposal, how do you think Congress is going to get anything accomplished without first impeaching Bush?

If your tire blows while you're driving, do you stop to fix it? Or do you continue driving on your rim because to stop would take too much time?

• It hurts the democracy to go through a presidential impeachment. And Bush is a lame duck anyway.
Holding government officials accountable for their actions strengthens our democracy. Letting lawlessness stand weakens it.

Sometimes reprimanding a child (president) doesn't make the family (Washington) a happy place. But you still have to do it so the child and his siblings (future presidents) learn about accountability. Impeachment is horribly UNDERUSED, which is part of why there's so much corruption at the top. Politicians must learn to fear it. People think things are better because we improved the make-up of our law-making body, Congress. But Bush is BREAKING LAWS. So, it doesn't matter how many laws Congress passes if they don't serve their OVERSIGHT duties as well by impeaching. They swore to defend the Constitution. What are laws without enforcement?

Besides, considering Bush's track-record of breaking laws, he can still do a lot of damage. Our troops, Iran, and our Supreme Court are all endangered so long as he remains in office. Waiting until Bush is out of office will leave us complicit in any further crimes he commits. The Union of Concerned Scientists has estimated that the death toll from a "tactical" nuclear weapon of the kind Bush is contemplating using in Iran would be at minimum 3 million men, women, and children. The path of death would stretch across country boundaries into India.

Perhaps worst of all, we set a terrible precedent by allowing Bush to stay in office after he's broken so many laws. Impeachment will stop future presidents from using Bush's actions as justification for even more lawbreaking and erosion of civil liberties.

• I'm a Democrat/
Republican. If we support impeachment it will lower the chances of my party winning in 2008.

So, your party would rather win elections than do what's right for the country? I hope you're wrong. I also hope the public is willing to throw additional support to any party that holds our elected officials accountable for their actions. This has been historically true with every single impeachment effort launched. And this impeachment effort would begin with majority support (unlike most past impeachments including Nixon).

• Impeachment will never happen. Congress members will block it.
Well, all we need is a majority of support in the House. And 2/3rds vote in the Senate to remove Bush from office will happen once the evidence gets aired on the floor of the House, and subsequently the national media outlets. The political pressure will become too great.

Today's impossibility is tomorrow's reality. Congress members will realize that tying their political future to Bush reduces their chances of getting elected. Remember, one way or another, Bush is gone by 2009— but members of Congress may retain their offices beyond that date. Bush's poll numbers are extremely low, and most Americans support impeachment. This is a bipartisan movement. This means that if we make the pressure unbearable for Members of Congress, they'll turn on him to keep their own seats (like they did with Nixon). It's already starting to happen. While many Members of Congress have behaved unethically in the last few years, it's important to understand that this is related to their warped view of what's in their self-interest. Let's wake them up to their true self-interest (impeaching the president), by showing them our support for impeachment.

And even if we only impeach, and the Senate fails to do their duty and remove him from office, it will only implicate the Senators who fail to do their sworn Constitutional duty.

• But Speaker of the House Pelosi said that Impeachment was "off the table."

Pelosi most likely said this to remove any appearance of conflict-of-interest that would arise if she were thrust into the presidency as a result of the coming impeachment. What we need to do is to pressure Pelosi not to interfere with impeachment maneuverings within her party. Sending her Do-It-Yourself impeachments legitimizes her when she joins the impeachment movement in the future.

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