The administration of George W. Bush committed a number of actions, some of which are likely criminal, some of which expand the powers of the executive beyond credible fidelity to the constitution and some of which are just plain offensive regardless of their legality. President Obama, who followed Bush into office, made some show of reversing some of the policies of his predecessor that had brought protest from civil libertarian and good government groups. Other policies were maintained intact or, worse, expanded. Obama's failures in this regard and his failure to prosecute his predecessor for actions like torture, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, maintaining secret foreign gulags, warrantless mass surveillance, and manipulating intelligence and catapulting propaganda to lead the nation into a dubiously legal preemptive war, among other actions, have created a culture of impunity that makes these sorts of offenses likely to recur.
First a bit of housekeeping. This is a discussion of the potential impeachment of George W. Bush (which opportunity has passed) and Barack Obama for a variety of actions that their administrations have taken. This is not to say that impeachment is the only remedy that is appropriate for these actions. Though the statute of limitations has run out on some of Bush's crimes, others have no statute of limitations:
President Bush and Vice President Cheney may also be criminally culpable for waterboarding and other forms of torture. This should also be investigated now, even though there is no statute of limitations for waterboarding and other life-threatening forms of torture--those responsible may be prosecuted as long as they live. Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have publicly admitted their involvement in waterboarding detainees abroad. The federal anti-torture statute makes it an apparent crime to have done so.Impeachment may not be politically feasible or even necessarily a potentially fruitful pursuit for its own sake (though the public debate around such an effort could be quite useful). Further, the focus on these two presidents is not meant to, in any way, take away from the culpability of members of their administrations, other parts of government, or the military and intelligence communities for their parts in a variety of actions.
To some extent, this article will make claims about what should have been done in the past. There is yet time, though, to take corrective actions in venues other than a compromised and internally deadlocked Congress, which may be too corrupt and complicit to act or even demand a decent explanation of the President's deeds. We can yet look to the potential for eventual actions by international legal bodies for violations of laws which the United States has pledged to uphold. Further, and more importantly, in light of the coming change of administrations, our fellow Americans should speak to power on this issue and make it conform to the standards of a decent nation.
A culture of impunity leads to an escalation of bad executive behavior
In discussing the origins of the War Powers Act, former Senator Mike Gravel, in his book A Political Odyssey: The Rise of American Militarism and One Man's Fight to Stop It, provides a stark example of how the unpunished abuse of power by one administration goes on to be exploited by future administrations:
In ... April 1972, the Senate began debating a bill that would limit the executive's war-making powers. The United States overthrew monarchy, but discovered that a profit-motivated democracy can develop its own forms of tyranny. Prior to the Cold War, Congress followed the Constitution. It formally declared wars. But since Truman sent troops to Korea in 1950, Congress had abdicated perhaps its most serious responsibility. Presidential abuse of power in foreign affairs became routine and Nixon seized it with abandon.Despite the actions to rein in executive abuses in the wake of the Nixon administration, a chain of actions by later administrations that were not held accountable by Congress has created the culture of impunity that has escalated to the most recent administration's usurpation of powers that were supposed to be addressed by the remedies created in the mid to late 1970's.
There is a culture of impunity that an impeachment action is meant to cure by reasserting the public's will over executives who go astray. We've seen this movie before.
Here's a section from a post that I wrote years ago calling for Bush's impeachment. Abuses of office by Presidents Reagan and Bush the Elder were let stand by craven Democrats eager for electoral gain at the expense of justice:
Democrats have a long-standing pattern of sacrificing justice in an attempt to achieve an elusive bipartisan comity. John Conyers and Henry Gonzalez' call for impeachment in 1983 over Reagan's Grenada invasion - scuttled. Henry Gonzalez' 1987 motion for impeachment over Iran Contra - scuttled. Actually, not just scuttled, stillborn by choice of the investigators:The shredded documents and shredded memories of the White House cover-up are usually blamed for the failure of the committees to uncover ''all of the facts.'' But there are other reasons, namely the limitations that the committees imposed upon themselves or allowed to be imposed on them. They began the investigation by immediately imposing an unrealistic deadline for ending it. They agreed to permit the White House to review all internal documents for ''relevance'' before being released to investigators. They made no attempt to locate and make evidentiary use of Presidential calendars, nor did they seek Presidential telephone logs. They were intimidated by the public reaction to the immunized testimony of Marine Lieut. Col. Oliver L. North, and flummoxed by the immunized testimony of Poindexter, who said he had not told the President of the diversion, in order to give him ''deniability.''Here's how the 1987 investigation was described at the time in the Washington Post on August, 4 1987 in an article titled, "Hill to Reagan: All is Forgiven" (sorry no link, I got it from Lexis-Nexis at the library):
Most important, senior members of the Senate committee, which played the dominant role, agreed from the outset that specific evidence of a Presidential ''act of commission'' would be necessary before Reagan himself would become a target. No amount of Presidential negligence or nonfeasance, they decided, would justify a potential impeachment proceeding that could be dangerous for the nation.The message from Congress to Reagan was, "Come home, all is forgiven."
Congress has been lied to, berated, patronized, needled, baited and, in the case of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, mugged by witnesses.
But because the president has thrown two rascals out and replaced them with rational men, Congress is ready to start over. It is grateful to Reagan for not making them impeach him.
Congress, like a battered wife, will take back the abusive husband. He fell among evil companions, that's all. She will give him another chance. Divorce, like impeachment, can be so messy.