Adam Ash

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

US Diary: more and more talk on impeaching George Bush's ass

1. Four Vermont Towns Vote to Impeach Bush

NEWFANE, Vt. -- In a white-clapboard town hall, voters gathered Tuesday to conduct their community's annual business and to call for the impeachment of President Bush.

We the voters of Newfane would like Town Meeting, March 2006, to consider the following resolution:

Whereas George W. Bush has:

1. Misled the nation about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction;

2. Misled the nation about ties between Iraq and Al Quaeda;

3. Used these falsehoods to lead our nation into war unsupported by international law;

4. Not told the truth about American policy with respect to the use of torture; and

5. Has directed the government to engage in domestic spying, in direct contravention of U.S. law.

Therefore, the voters of the town of Newfane ask that our representative to the U.S. House of Representatives file articles of impeachment to remove him from office.

"In the U.S. presently there are only a few places where citizens can act in this fashion and have a say in our nation," said select board member Dan DeWalt, who drafted the impeachment article that was placed on the warning - or official agenda - for this year's town meeting.

"It absolutely affects us locally," DeWalt said. "It's our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, who are dying" in the war in Iraq.

The article, approved by a paper ballot 121-29, calls on Vermont's lone member of the U.S. House, independent Rep. Bernie Sanders, to file articles of impeachment against the president, alleging that Bush misled the nation into the Iraq war and engaged in illegal domestic spying.

At least three other southern Vermont towns, spurred by publicity about Newfane's resolution, brought up similar resolutions during Tuesday's meetings and endorsed them. They were Dummerston, Marlboro and Putney. Marlboro passed it 60-10 by paper ballot. Putney and Dummerston approved the measures under "other business" from the floor.

In Newfane, the impeachment item came at the end of a roughly four-hour meeting that was devoted mostly to the local affairs of the town of 1,600 located in southeastern Vermont. Some residents stayed alert with the help of coffee and sweet pastries offered as a school fundraiser at the back of the hall.

Among the other items discussed was whether the town should fix some of the 100-year-old sidewalks in the village, and whether rebuilding a covered bridge to accommodate 40,000-pound trucks would leave heavier rigs still getting around the span by using the town's battered dirt roads.

Discussion of impeachment, though, took up more than 30 minutes, reflecting the intense interest in the topic and somewhat of a division over whether town meeting was an appropriate place to debate it.

Ann Landenberger argued that it was appropriate for towns to weigh in. "As a teacher I can't say to my kids that what happens on the national level doesn't affect us at the local level," she told the Newfane meeting. "Would that we could all be in a cocoon, but that is not the case."

Greg Record, a local justice of the peace, said in an interview after the meeting that the town is made up of people from the "far-left," and he criticized the amount of time and attention such advisory votes get.

"We spend more time on these things than on a million dollar budget item," he complained.

The president did have his supporters during the debate.

Lenore Salzbrun defended Bush, saying she had close friends who died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "I am so grateful that our president didn't just put his head in the sand ... and did go out and fight," she said.

"How many attacks have we had on the U.S. since September 11?" asked another resident, Carlton Brown. "Maybe some of the terrorists around the world are sitting up and taking notice that we're not going to be patsies."

The debate also touched on an age-old criticism of Vermont's Town Meeting Day tradition: Many residents work during the day and can't participate. Helen Prescott said she wished the impeachment resolution had been put on the ballot, giving residents until 7 p.m. to come to the poll at the town's Union Hall and vote on the question.

"For us to make this decision for all the residents of Newfane scares me," she said.

The Bush vote is not the first time Newfane has used its town meeting forum to take a state or national stand. Last year, for example, the town went on record against the Iraq war.

Sanders issued a statement after the Newfane vote saying that although the Bush administration "has been a disaster for our country, and a number of actions that he has taken may very well not have been legal," he said that given the reality that the Republicans control the House and the Senate, "it would be impractical to talk about impeachment."

He added that "all of our energy must go into the November elections with the goal of ending Republican control of the House and Senate."

Jim Barnett, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, issued a statement taking issue with Sanders. "Congressman Sanders should reject this resolution not because it is 'impractical,' but because it is wrong," he said, adding that "we should not be impeaching presidents just because we disagree with them."

DeWalt told his fellow townspeople that it wasn't a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with the president on specific issues. He said Bush had violated his oath of office by ignoring the constitutional requirement that international treaties are the law of the land.

"You can love the Iraq war and you should still vote to impeach the president," he said.

2. The I-word goes public
At a forum in New York, pundits and politicians called for the impeachment of George W. Bush.
By Michelle Goldberg

Late last year, the idea of impeaching President Bush, once taboo even among most liberals, started gaining real currency. Following revelations of Bush's domestic spying program -- and the president's unrepentant insistence on continuing it -- former Nixon White House counsel John Dean called Bush "the first president to admit to an impeachable offense." Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called for the creation of a select committee to investigate "those offenses which appear to rise to the level of impeachment." Twenty-six House Democrats have joined him.

At the end of January, former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, a member of the House Judiciary Committee during Nixon's impeachment, penned an appeal for Bush's removal in the Nation, citing his illegal wiretaps, his deliberate deceptions over Iraq, his incompetent prosecution of the war, and his authorizing systemic torture and abuse. "Impeachment is a tortuous process, but now that President Bush has thrown down the gauntlet and virtually dared Congress to stop him from violating the law, nothing less is necessary to protect our constitutional system and preserve our democracy," she wrote. In March, former Harper's magazine editor Lewis Lapham wrote a cover story in that magazine titled "The Case for Impeachment." The Center for Constitutional Rights -- the legal group representing many of the victims of Bush's torture policies -- has just published a book called "Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush," and at least one other book in a similar vein is forthcoming, Dave Lindorff and Barbara Olshansky's "The Case for Impeachment."

With so much ferment on the left, last night's public forum, "Is There a Case for Impeachment?" had the buzzy feel of an important cultural event. The gathering, presented by Harper's and moderated by Air America's Sam Seder, brought together Lapham, Conyers, Holtzman, Dean and Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. It was held in midtown's Town Hall theater, an elegant space with balcony seating, crystal chandeliers and gold detailing. Around 1,500 people -- mostly a mix of tweedy seniors and clean-cut young activists -- paid $10 for their seats. Built as a meeting place for suffragists, Town Hall has a storied radical history -- in 1921, Margaret Sanger was arrested on its stage for talking about birth control. It was a fitting setting for a discussion of what Rep. Conyers, a veteran of the civil rights movement, presented as the next great David vs. Goliath American struggle.

"I'm not doing this to fail," he said. "This goes back to a little bit of my civil rights background. We were in an impossible situation. The civil rights leaders came to Martin King and said, please, we hear you're going to start a civil rights movement in the South, you'll get all of us killed, Martin, don't do that!" But if he hadn't, said Conyers, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would never have passed.

"We've lost more rights and constitutional prerogatives in this short period of time than under any president that my studies reveal," he continued. "So now's the time. What we have to do is, we have to work on faith. We have to believe that there are enough American people who will agree with us that enough is enough. We've got to believe that, and we've got to work on that between now and November, and I think we'll win."

Conyers' invocation of the massive odds arrayed against past freedom and justice movements diminished, but did not eliminate, the air of wistful unreality hanging over the whole thing. After all, it is an exercise in extreme optimism to speak seriously about impeaching Bush as if the important question is whether impeachment is warranted. For almost everyone present, the answer to "Is there a case for impeachment?" was a passionate, insistent yes. Indeed, most insisted that the future of the republic depends on it. But the operative question is not whether Bush should be impeached, but whether Bush could be impeached, and that's something most of the panel barely grappled with.

Time and again, Lapham spoke of the responsibility of Republican congressmen to put their duty to the Constitution above their loyalty to the GOP. His seeming conviction that what matters are the facts of Bush's criminality is almost quaint. In his Harper's piece, Lapham wrote, "What else is it that voters expect the Congress to do if not to look out for their rights as citizens of the United States? So the choice presented to the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee investigating the President's use of electronic surveillance comes down to a matter of deciding whether they will serve their country or their party." He echoed this theme at the Town Hall forum, opining at one point that impeachment should not be a partisan issue -- as if he seriously believes that House Republicans are small-d democrats, a delusion almost as great as Bush's conviction that God, not William Rehnquist, made him president.

Others recognized that for impeachment to even be a possibility, Democrats must retake at least one house of Congress in November. Holtzman proclaimed her faith that the people, once awakened, will save their country at the voting booth. "Too many people have been just despondent about what the president has done, and have not understood that the Constitution itself foresaw this kind of behavior and created a remedy. And once people know that, they can become empowered to act. And I believe that if enough people know, then if the Congress doesn't create [Conyers'] select committee, they may change the Congress!"

Things are not, unfortunately, quite that simple. Polls show more Americans favoring Democratic control of Congress than Republican, but that does not mean they can make it so. Redistricting along partisan lines means that most House seats are safe for one party or another; as the Center for Voting and Democracy found in a 2005 report, "The past two House elections were the least competitive in American history by most standards. In each of the four national elections since 1996, more than 98 percent of incumbents have won, and more than 90 percent of all races have been won by non-competitive margins of more than 10 percent."

Electoral maps that pack liberal, urban voters together have put Democrats at a structural disadvantage that is unlikely to be overcome by either exhortations about people power or disenchantment with Republican rule. As Steven Hill, author of "Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner Take All Politics," wrote in Mother Jones last year, "Even when the Democrats win more votes, they don't necessarily win more seats. That's true in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, and the Electoral College." In the House, he wrote, "When the two sides are tied nationally, the Republicans end up winning about 50 more House districts than the Democrats."

The Senate is even more distorted; the fact that small, sparsely populated states have the same representation as large states with big cities gives a huge advantage to rural voters, who tend to be more conservative. According to Hill, "In 2004, over 51 percent of votes cast were for Democratic senatorial candidates, yet Republicans elected 19 of the 34 contested seats."

With enough of a groundswell, of course, the Democrats' disadvantage could be surmounted. But it seems almost willfully naive to talk about mustering a congressional majority for impeachment without grappling with the deformation of our democracy that must be overcome first.

Moreover, as Ratner noted, even if the Democrats regained control of Congress, it is far from clear that they could summon the political will to mount an impeachment drive.

It's understandable, of course, that few wanted to dwell on how unlikely impeachment is under current conditions, both now and after November. The forum was a blast of civic outrage and a call to arms, not a sober exercise in political strategizing. In that way, it served its function: Just talking about impeachment in a respectable public forum legitimizes it. Still, if Bush must be impeached to save the republic, and if Bush almost certainly will not be impeached, where does that leave us?

Some of the panelists argued that if Bush is not removed, America's very foundations would rot beyond repair. "The American people are finally going to get it, I hope, about President Bush," said Holtzman. "And if they don't get it, what democracy will we have left?" Ratner spoke with similar urgency. "We're talking about moving from a republic to tyranny," he said. "It's getting too late. If this doesn't happen now, if we can't hold him accountable now, we're not going to get our liberty back."

Toward the end of the event, the gravity of America's dilemma led Lapham to speculate that even insurrection might be possible. It came in response to a question from an audience member who asked, "Are you willing to discuss the alternative that the American people have if they're faced with an illegal government because impeachment doesn't work? That alternative of course is for the people to overthrow the illegal government by the means that they consider necessary."

"I do think that it could easily get to the revolutionary stage, because I would expect the fight to be extremely ugly," Lapham said. "It might come to that. I don't think you're going to keep your democratic republic easily."

It was hard to tell if the applause that followed represented a flash of militant hope, or an acknowledgment of despair.

3. Impeachment Proves Risky Political Issue
Some Democratic Activists Push Removing Bush From Office, But Mainstream Steers Clear

If Democratic candidate Tony Trupiano wins a Michigan House seat this fall, he pledges that one of his first acts will be to introduce articles of impeachment against President Bush.

That has earned Mr. Trupiano the endorsement of ImpeachPAC, a group of Democratic activists seeking to remove Mr. Bush from office. ImpeachPAC's Web site lists 14 candidates offering similar commitments, which are reminiscent of the Republican drive to oust former President Bill Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

But Mr. Trupiano's pledge hasn't much impressed Democratic Party leaders, who are keeping their distance from impeachment talk. They remember how the effort boomeranged on Republicans in the 1998 midterm elections, when Mr. Clinton's adversaries expected to gain House seats but lost ground instead.

"If you are looking for a message to take back the House and the Senate or the White House, there are better ways to go about it," says Democratic communications ace Joe Lockhart, a media aide to Mr. Clinton during the Republican impeachment effort.

That puts mainstream Democrats, on this issue at least, echoing the Republican National Committee. "Voters elect candidates because they understand the issues rather than engage in leftwing fantasies," says RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt. It also guarantees tension between some of the party's most fervent members and its electoral strategists, who are directing efforts to recapture Capitol Hill.

Impeachment advocates are undaunted. "Just because you can't win a political battle doesn't mean certain battles shouldn't be fought," says Bob Fertik, a founder of the ImpeachPAC effort. "If we don't hold a president accountable for lying to start a war, we might as well throw out the Constitution of the United States."

Mr. Fertik, 48 years old, founded a group called in 2000 and began organizing protests from his home computer in New York before the first U.S. bombers hit Baghdad. When the so-called Downing Street Memo emerged in Britain last year, he discerned evidence that the Bush administration had manipulated prewar intelligence.

An organization he helped found,, soon assembled an electronic coalition containing 300,000 email addresses. The group hired independent pollster John Zogby to test support for impeachment in June and found that 42% of likely voters supported that step if it were proved that the president lied about prewar intelligence.

By November, the proportion reached 51% -- prompting an impeachment drumbeat from Mr. Fertik and like-minded activists. He cofounded ImpeachPAC, a political action committee dedicated to recruiting and backing candidates who support an impeachment inquiry.

The $60,000 that ImpeachPAC has raised so far isn't much, but has kept the Internet-based organization afloat. David Swanson, the 36-year-old director, works from his home in Virginia.

The movement can point to some small successes. Radio celebrity Garrison Keillor posted an article for the online magazine Salon calling for Mr. Bush's impeachment. Three California cities -- San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Arcata -- have passed resolutions backing impeachment, and municipalities in North Carolina and Vermont are considering such steps.

But the Democratic National Committee, chaired by 2004 campaign firebrand Howard Dean has declined to chime in. A House resolution offered by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan seeking an initial impeachment inquiry has attracted support from just 26 of 201 House Democrats. Even Mr. Conyers, the ranking Judiciary Committee Democrat, allows, "This isn't something we have to do right away."

Democratic strategists remember the fallout Republicans suffered among swing voters in 1998 amid their bid to oust Mr. Clinton. The National Republican Congressional Committee sank $10 million into a last-minute advertising blitz focused on Mr. Clinton's character, only to lose five seats and see House Speaker Newt Gingrich pressured to resign.

A Bush impeachment drive could only move forward if Democrats regained control of the House from the president's party. But even then it would be an uphill fight.

"At most, they could show a mistake in judgment, it seems to me," says the Rev. Robert F. Drinan of the Georgetown University Law Center, a former Democratic House member who backed seeking the impeachment of Richard Nixon in 1974 over Watergate. Michael Gerhardt, an impeachment expert at the University of North Carolina law school, says there could be a "credible basis for an inquiry," but additional facts would have to be established before anyone could "demonstrate an impeachable offense occurred."

Mr. Trupiano, a 45-year-old radio talk-show host, doesn't need convincing. Members of both parties must "exercise oversight," he says, "and once and for all, let's settle some of these discrepancies" about prewar intelligence.

He is seeking the Detroit-area House seat held by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a two-term Republican incumbent who hasn't decided if he will seek re-election. He predicts his impeachment stance will become an issue, since Republicans "are going to try to define me as something of a radical."

"From our side of the fence, people are very supportive of the president," says Mr. McCotter's spokesman Bob Jackson. He adds that Mr. McCotter, who won re-election in 2004 with 57% of the vote, hasn't heard complaints about inadequate congressional oversight of the Bush administration.

Mr. Trupiano acknowledges that the economy is the No. 1 concern of the suburban electorate he is courting. And on the stump, he usually avoids using the word "impeachment," opting instead to call for holding the administration "accountable" for its handling of prewar intelligence and its warrantless wiretaps of some Americans' telephone calls as part of the war against terrorism.

"I'm not afraid of the word," says Mr. Trupiano. "But some people are uncomfortable with it."

4. Impeaching George W. Bush
By Onnesha Roychoudhuri, AlterNet

Until recently, talk of ousting President George W. Bush has proved little more than a distant rumbling. For too long, impeachment has been deemed implausible. It’s not going to happen with a Republican Congress, so the argument goes. Not with the president finishing his second term, not while we're at war.

But the distant rumbling is growing louder by the day, creating a resonant echo that is rapidly taking root in public discourse. “Impeach Him,” reads the cover of this month’s Harper’s magazine. And in a public forum in New York City last week, journalists, lawyers, and political figures came together to discuss the case against our president.

Since September 11th, 2001, there has been no shortage of news regarding this administration’s involvement in torture, lies, secrecy and obstruction of the law. Yet, there has been little discussion in the mainstream media of holding those in power accountable for the actions so diligently catalogued by the press. It is a conspicuous vacuum that helps to explain why calls for impeachment are rapidly gaining currency.

In fact, the case for the impeachment of President Bush is arguably the strongest in American history. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) makes this amply clear in its recent book, a concise indictment of President Bush that lays out four clear legal arguments that point to impeachment as a necessary remedy for the gross violation of our Constitution. The Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush covers illegal wiretapping, torture, rendition, detention and the Iraq war. An appendix compares the impeachment proceedings of Andrew Johnson, Nixon and Clinton to the comparatively more powerful case against Bush.

Lawyers at the CCR, indeed lawyers throughout the world, have been embroiled in litigation with the administration for years. But the administration has consistently demonstrated disdain for the law, with the president effectively thumbing his nose at the Supreme Court, Congress, and the American people. It is this reality that led Michael Ratner and his fellow lawyers at the CCR to provide a clear argument for impeachment to the American people and Congress.

The piecemeal battles that journalists, lawyers and activists fight every day are a testament to the respect many Americans still have for the rule of law. But arguments against the president’s violation of the Constitution have not resulted in any reform or change in behavior. Public shaming and the threat of legal action often work to keep politicians in line. But President Bush is vocally disinterested in the public’s approval of his agenda. Furthermore, he views the law, as evidenced by torture and detainee litigation, as mutable suggestion. For such a president, legal recourse is largely ineffectual -- unless Americans and Congress reclaim the power of the law to remove the offending parties.

As Ratner told AlterNet, "While our battles against illegal wiretaps and Guantanamo are critical for trying to get back legality, until we get rid of what I consider a criminal administration, we will not be able to go back to even a semblance of civil liberties and human rights."

The Articles of Impeachment make clear that this is no longer just about President Bush. Rather, it is about preventing the executive branch from obtaining carte blanche to disregard the two other branches of government. This is a paradigm shift that has already gained substantial footing through this administration's steady erosion of legal precedent.

There is no shortage of diligent documentation of this president's violation of laws and misleading of the public -- from the 1,284-page Torture Papers to congressman John Conyers' 273-page compilation [PDF] of the lies leading to the Iraq war. But behind this incredible ongoing compendium of evidence against President Bush lurks the realization that publicly pointing to criminal behavior is not synonymous with bringing it to an end.

It is the ultimate case of missing the forest for the trees. Behind this massive body of evidence, behind each new report of this president’s transgressions of the law, is the threat of the one and only story that Americans will read for the rest of this presidency, and presidencies to come: The abuse of power, and the destruction of our Constitution.

As Ratner notes, "We need to be as radical as reality, and reality right now is very, very radical." Indeed, after reading through the Articles of Impeachment, readers will find that the only thing radical about impeaching this president is simply that it has not yet happened.

AlterNet spoke with Michael Ratner to discuss the specifics behind the legal arguments for impeachment, and the need for popular protest to restore the rule of law and force Congress to hold this administration accountable.

Onnesha Roychoudhuri: Can you briefly describe the articles of impeachment?

Michael Ratner: We've drafted four articles: Article I concerns the warrantless wiretapping of Americans in the U.S. This constitutes a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which prohibits and makes criminal any wiretapping without a warrant. The president has said that he's doing this, and it's a criminal charge that can get you five years in jail for each count. Additionally, it violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits unlawful searches and seizures -- this includes electronic surveillance. On a deeper level, these wiretaps deny the efficacy and validity of a congressional act.

Article Two of the impeachment of Richard Nixon is very similar. Nixon went outside of Congressional law and engaged in warrantless wiretapping against domestic dissidents and others who opposed the war in Vietnam. So, this article has a historical relation, obviously solid.

Article II is the falsifications that were used to justify the Iraq war. That's the article that congressman John Conyers has really focused on -- he's written an extensive report that documents this. You reference any particular day and the administration was making statements that Iraq has a relationship to 9/11, al Qaida and Osama bin Laden; that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In the one and a half years leading up to the war, the time during which they were making these statements, they knew that they were false.

Lying to Congress and the American people got us into a war that has two serious impeachable issues within it: First, it's an aggressive war contrary to the U.N. charter and contrary to law that doesn't allow war unless it's in self-defense. Secondly, it undermines the authority of Congress and the American people to decide when war is necessary. Through the lies, he got a number of Congress people to believe that war was necessary, thereby undercutting their constitutional obligation to decide on war.

Elizabeth Holtzman, who was part of the Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon, has written a long piece about how this constitutes fraud under criminal law. Of course, you don't need a criminal act to impeach someone, you simply need an act that undermines and subverts the basic constitutional structure of our government, as well as a failure to execute the proper laws.

Article III deals with what the president has done in regard to the issues of torture, arbitrary long-term detentions, disappearances and special trial. Our law is very clear on these things. You can't torture people, you can't commit war crimes, you can't send people to countries where they're tortured and you can't set up special courts for trial. The Geneva Conventions are a part of our law, as is the international covenant of civil and political rights. The president, in authorizing that entire range of activities, has not met with his constitutional obligation to faithfully execute laws.

Congress tried to put some brakes on the president through the McCain amendment, which prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. But the president, in a signing statement, essentially said he reserved the right to ignore what Congress says. What he did is not just a violation of the law; he is destroying the checks and balances of our Constitution.

Article IV is a general article that puts all of the prior three articles together. If you look at these things together, you see that they are essentially destroying our republic and our democracy. They are destroying the constitutional structure of our government. Therefore, he should be impeached.

OR: Was it your intent for the book to be utilized by members of Congress to begin impeachment proceedings?

MR: Yes, that's definitely one of our intents. We would also like to see some courage given to our members of Congress. John Conyers has begun the process with 26 people now signed onto the inquiry bill, but that's very small compared to the number that should be there. Similarly with the NSA spying, 18 have signed on to a serious inquiry, but we're talking about the same kinds of conduct that were part of Nixon's impeachment proceedings -- illegal use of electronic surveillance. Even Democrats like Al Gore are calling this a government of tyranny because of the utter and complete subverting of the Constitution.

Another intent is to popularize the issue that what the president has done has got to be looked. These aren't just individual issues, but a destruction of democracy on its deepest level. We want to popularize that idea and get it out there, particularly right now. If you look at the polls on warrantless wiretapping and the Iraq War, over 50 percent of Americans think that Bush could be impeached for these activities. But the media aren't picking this up. No one's talking about impeachment from the New York Times , or the Washington Post or anywhere else.

OR: Why do you think that is?

MR: They claim it's because it's not realistic. But that's not at all the case. When they started with the Clinton impeachment, less than 30 percent of the people were willing to impeach him for his actions. Yet, the media carried it widely. It may be that there's a buy-in by some part of this media leader society -- thinking that this could shake up our government too much. Some people think it's too dangerous to do so, but we would argue that it's much too dangerous not to.

OR: What do you say to Americans who think it isn't worth bothering with impeachment with the president currently in his final term?

MR: This administration has gone so far beyond what the requirements of the Constitution and the law. The question is whether this country can ever come back and resemble a democracy again. Unless you hold accountable the people who actually carried out an illegal war with Iraq, warrantless wiretapping and torture, there's nothing to stop the next administration -- whether it's Republican or Democrat -- from continuing with the same. We have to show that what happened in this country in the past four years is an utter subversion of our Constitution and completely unlawful under domestic and international law. Otherwise, I fear that this country may be changed forever in a very negative direction.

OR: What's at stake here?

MR: What's at stake is a presidency that is becoming an imperial presidency -- in which he's no longer responsible to the judiciary or the Congress. This is a president that thinks that, on his own, he can wiretap people, torture people, pick them up anywhere in the world. This has to be beaten back, and it has to be done soon. It is becoming embedded in our society in a way that is very hard to get rid of.

For instance, we just had a loss in the case of Maher Arar . Part of the judge's thinking in his decision was that, while it may not be okay to torture in a criminal case, it may be okay if it's to prevent terrorism. When that kind of thinking is afoot, something has to be done. Otherwise, it will become embedded in our legal and political thinking in the next generations. There has to be accountability for this.

OR: There's a lot of people, especially on the left, who think of George W. Bush as very self-serving president. This characterization may be preventing people from seeing that he is actually thinking well beyond his presidency -- with the intent to expand executive power for future administrations. Is this a fair characterization?

MR: Yes, this is about a particularly bad president -- a president who doesn't care about constitutional rights. But what's really going on here is what Cheney actually came out and stated a month ago when he talked about warrantless wiretapping. He said that they wanted to overcome what happened to the presidency during the '60s and the '70s.

There's an absolute intent here to make the presidency much more powerful, what they call a unitary presidency where they're not just a co-equal branch, but they are the branch -- no court or Congress can check them. This is not just about the president any longer, it's about these assertions of inherent power in the executive to override constitutional, international, congressional limitations, and judicial limitations. That's a big problem because that's essentially a dictatorship.

OR: With all this gratuitous conduct that has been amassed in the media, the question arises, why haven't there been many legal successes stopping this behavior?

MR: At the CCR, in almost every single action discussed in the articles, we have various lawsuits going. The problem is that they take a long time. Also, the courts are not always in our favor. And, even when we win, the administration is able to undercut them. You don't just win by lawsuits; you win by popular protest, people in the streets. That's the way you have to win. The Center really believes that our lawsuits are important and people have to be represented. We have to stop torture to the extent that we can. But there has to be popular protest in this country, or our lawsuits are not going to change anything.

(Onnesha Roychoudhuri is an editorial fellow at AlterNet.)


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