Monday, September 11, 2006

Impeachment Sauce for the Republican Gander

Maybe I just have Bush Derangement Syndrome. But I find myself agreeing with James Wimberly and Mark Kleiman: there exist more than sufficient grounds for impeaching George W. Bush. In his recent statements about CIA detainees, he essentially confessed to violations of U.S. law. The laws in question provide for criminal punishments – of 20 years or more – for acts of torture and violations of the Geneva Convention.

Keep in mind that just eight years ago, Bill Clinton was impeached for committing perjury. Some of Clinton’s defenders insisted that he was really impeached for fellatio. But the Republicans argued that the law is the law. Clinton was subpoenaed to testify in court – under a sexual harassment law that Clinton himself had signed into law – and he lied under oath. That was the crime that left Clinton vulnerable to impeachment, on the theory that perjury counts among the high crimes and misdemeanors for which the Constitution authorizes impeachment. In all honesty, I bought that argument at the time. And now I have to wonder: are the Republicans willing to apply the same strict standard to their own man at the top? (That was a rhetorical question, of course. But I’d love to hear some Bush supporters try to answer it.)


Thomas said...

Specify the laws you think Bush has broken, and how he has broken them. Then we can talk.

Glen Whitman said...

Thomas -- read the Kleiman post that I linked.

Anonymous said...

"These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful."

That is from Bush's so-called confession.

Clinton intentionally broke a law, and he did so for his own personal gain. Bush and his administration diligently stayed within the law as they understood it, and they did so to protect American citizens.

I see an important difference.

Meanwhile, on the matter of Bill Clinton's lie, I didn't think he'd committed any wrong, though I admit he broke a law. (In case that doesn't make sense to you, consider that I don't think the war on drugs is just, either.)

Piso Mojado said...

There is little rationality in politics when things get emotional. The short answer is that Republicans will never acknowledge the crimes Bush has committed--contorting the facts and creating a false premise for invading Iraq, torturing POWs in violation of the Geneva Convention, etc.--and, therefore, will never be supportive of equal treatment under the law.

Anonymous said...

"Republicans will never acknowledge the crimes Bush has committed--contorting the facts and creating a false premise for invading Iraq"

That's not a fair assessment but rather a Democratic talking point, which has one purpose and one purpose only: to distance the Democrats in Congress from their own actions - Democrats who, along with the Republicans, overwhelmingly supported giving Bush the final say on invading Iraq. "We wuz fooled." Yeah, right.

Anonymous said...

"torturing POWs in violation of the Geneva Convention"

It's always been obvious that the Geneva convention does not apply to these particular prisoners. It would in fact be insane to apply it to them since the whole point is that it is a quid pro quo contract - we treat your men well if you treat our men well, which they never did, especially to Jews they caught. That we nevertheless have gone ahead and applied it to them does not change either of those points.

Glen Whitman said...

Says Bush: "The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful."

The defendant does not get to decide whether what he did was lawful. The point is that Bush has effectively admitted that the techniques in question (cold cell, waterboarding, etc.) did happen. It's for a jury (or in the case of an impeachment, the Senate) to decide whether such practices do, in fact, constitute inhumane treatment. I think a reasonable Senator, unhindered by partisan blinders, would recognize them as such. As Kleiman says, imagine yourself being subjected to them.

Anonymous said...

I guess in retrospect it would have been a good thing if Clinton had been impeached; Gore would have become president. Then maybe we would have avoided this whole Bush/Cheney fiasco. At the time I thought it was absurd to impeach a president because he tried to cover up his sexual liasons with a Whitehouse intern, but now I realize that a semen stain (especially if the DNA matches) is damning evidence and sufficient cause to dump a prez.

No man or woman is an island above the law, and lewd and liscivious behavior IS against the law. Do you really believe that Clinton was worrying about Osama or Korean nukes while he was getting a blowjob from Monica? That is impeachable deriliction of duty, plain and simple. And if he was thinking about those things during a frivolous sex act then doesn't that make him a real sicko worthy of impeachment? Either way, he should have been impeached.

Yes, if Gore had filled Clinton's shoes the world would be a very different place. But who in their right mind would now want to see Bush impeached? That would make Cheney president and once again the Dark Ages would descend upon the earth.

In conclusion, let us remember that no LAW is sacrosanct. We must consider the consequences of following the law to the letter. No person should be tortured or torn asunder without good cause. But the cause is only good if we were to get rid of both Bush .AND. Cheney . I say 'NO' to impeachment of Bush no matter who he's tortured or destroyed until such time as that part of the Constitution dealing with succession in the event of removal from office is extensively rewritten!

James said...


I think you are missing the point about "designed to be safe, to comply with our laws..." It's not unreasonable to suppose that Bush had the DoJ put a team together to figure out which of the CIA's preferred ways to treat a prisoner were within the letter of the law.

In any case, the defendant would be Bush, other administration officials, etc., not the DoJ. By analogy, if I'm accused of tax evasion and I claim that the IRS gave prior approval for the way I reported my income, would you consider that a sound legal defense? I'd presume the answer is yes. Well, if the President wants to do something, he asks the DoJ if it would be lawful, and the DoJ tells him that doing it would be lawful, that seems to me like a pretty good legal defense.

I'd agree to nearly any moral argument you might want to make about the power grabs of the present administration but I don't think the legal argument is there on this one.

Bill Poser said...

I don't think that this analogy works. When Bush consults the DOJ, he isn't in the same position as a taxpayer consulting the IRS. Bush is the boss of the people in the DOJ and controls what positions they take. He appoints the higher-level political appointees, who in turn hire staff lawyers, and determines policy. He didn't get independent, objective legal advice - he got his people to come up with arguments for what he wanted to do.

NRAforever said...

What is missing from this entire debate is what the phrase “High Crimes and Misdemeanor” in article two really means. It is not a reference to any specific criminal action in English Common Law. Wikipedia has an excellent article on what the phrase actually means.

Hamilton in Federalist No. 65 outlines when impeachment is merited:

"The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."

Impeachment was designed to rid society of public officials not acting in society’s best interest. What would necessitate impeachment would be if President Bush knowingly had someone in custody who clearly had information about an impending attack on America, and did nothing about it. This would be failing to act in society’s best interest, and that is what Hamilton, Madison, et al. were trying to protect against.

Even if impeachment were a legal matter, despite what some in this debate claim, the ambiguity of the law surrounding the president’s orders is more than enough to discredit the impeachment movement. Constitutional law concerning the actions permitted against foreign operatives captured while violating the laws of war is at best confusing and more likely contradictory. In Ex Parte Quirin the Supreme Court ruled that those acting outside the Rules of War (i.e. not wearing a uniform in battle, purposely attacking civilians) should be considered Unlawful Enemy Combatants. This designation means that those violating the laws of war are not afforded the protections of ordinary POWs. In Hamdan, the Court changed its mind, now affording the combatants certain protections. Bush, following the new precedent, has now shifted policy to abide by the most recent ruling.

As far as the Clinton Impeachment is concerned it has been well-defined the perjury merits impeachment. The reason comes at the need for society to have faith in public officials. “The violation of some public trust” through lying under oath and obstructing justice merits impeachment, acting to protect society does not.

Glen Whitman said...

James -- I agree with Bill Poser. My relationship with the IRS is nothing like the President's relationship with the Dept. of Defense.

NRAforever -- You seem to be upholding a double standard. For Bush you seem to be championing a very high bar for impeachment, for Clinton a very low one. I can't see how perjury about one's private sexual behavior is a greater threat to the public interest than committing violations of international human rights agreements (that the U.S. has subsequently embedded in its own laws).

I can see adopting a low bar that would impeach both Bush and Clinton, or a high bar that would impeach neither. I'm having a hard time finding a reasonable standard that would impeach Clinton but not Bush.

David Friedman said...

I don't know much about the particular crime you are accusing Bush of, but there is another, and perhaps clearer, case.

FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance act, was written to regulate interceptions of communications between agents of enemy powers or terrorists and U.S. residents. It set up a court to authorise such interceptions and made interception without warrants from that court a felony, punishable by up to five years and ten thousand dollars. It set the same penalty for knowing use of information obtained by such interception.

Perhaps I am missing something, but so far as I can tell Bush, in his statements on the NSA surveillance, confessed to using information that he knew was obtained in direct violation of FISA. Hence he is a confessed felon.

The only defenses I have seen amount to:

1. FISA is and always was unconstitutional--although for some reason nobody mentioned the fact for the first twenty-some years of its existence--because Congress cannot restrict the president in his capacity as Commander and Chief. I do not see how anyone who believes in strict interpretation of the Constitution can hold that position, since the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power to make rules to regulate the military.

2. When Congress authorized the use of force post 9/11 it implicitly repealed FISA--even though Congress was unaware of the fact, and the administration did not mention it at the time.

Neither strikes me as even marginally convincing. Impeachment seems the obvious legal action to take against a president who has confessed to deliberately committing repeated felonies.