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Say It Loud: Subpoena!

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By David Swanson

Subpoena is a beautiful word.  Sub means Under, as in "The subservient subject submitted along with his subordinates to the rule of law."  Poena means Penalty, as in "There's an opening at the penal colony."  Subpoena means a nation under laws, not unitary executives.  Three and a half months later than some of us had hoped, it is finally subpoena season, not to mention spring.

It's true that Congressman Henry Waxman already subpoenaed that pathetic ex-Walter Reed chief, and a few friendly witnesses have been subpoenaed.  But Congressman John Conyers has finally put the power of subpoena to serious use.  He has subpoenaed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to produce paper and electronic Department of Justice communications and files related to the firings of the U.S. attorneys, requiring that this material be produced in full by 2 p.m. on Monday, April 16.

Needless to say, there's not much chance of that.  Congress has been trying for six years to obtain information from the executive branch unsuccessfully.  In 2005, Conyers introduced bills to censure Bush and Cheney for refusing to turn over information as required by law.  The Justice Department has already indicated it will likely not comply with the subpoena.

The House and Senate Judiciary Committees have approved subpoenas for Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and other White House staff, but not yet delivered them, while the White House has indicated it will refuse them. 

Meanwhile, Gonzales has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17, an event he is struggling to prepare for: .  The timing of this is as beautiful as the word Subpoena.  If Gonzales fails to produce the materials subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee on the 16th, and that committee talks to the Senate Judiciary Committee (something you cannot always assume will happen), Senators will be able to question Gonzales about his latest violation of the law on the 17th.  Already a majority of Americans want Gonzales to resign.

The main goal of questioning Gonzales should be to bring out the roles of Vice President Dick Cheney and President George Bush in directing his crimes and lies. 

But April 17 should be just a warm up for April 18, when Congressman Waxman plans to take testimony in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  Here's an excerpt from a letter Waxman sent to Rice on April 9:

"One of the issues the Committee is examining why the President asserted in his State of the Union address in 2003 that Iraq sought uranium from Niger [sic]. In my March 12 letter, I requested information about what you knew about this assertion and how it ended up in the State of the Union address. I asked you to answer specific questions raised in a June 10, 2003, letter and a July 29,2003,1etter, both of which I enclosed. These questions included: (1) whether you had any knowledge that would explain why President Bush cited forged evidence about Iraq's efforts to procure uranium from Niger in the State of the Union address; (2) whether you knew before the State of the Union address of the doubts raised by the CIA and the State Department about the veracity of the Niger claim; (3) whether there was a factual basis for your reference in a January 23, 2003, op-ed to 'Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad'; and (4) whether you took appropriate steps to investigate how the Niger claim ended up in the State of the Union address after it was revealed to be fraudulent."

For background on the forged Niger documents, see this report on two new books on the topic:

Not only does this questioning of Rice on the 18th begin to get at the central investigation that has not been done, the investigation that Senator Jay Rockefeller and Congressman Silvestre Reyes, as chairs of the Intelligence Committees, have dropped the ball on, the investigation that Senator Carl Levin has skirted and a majority of Americans have said they want: the investigation of the lies that launched the war.  But this occasion also creates a possible conflict of the sort we've long needed between what's left of Congress and the much aggrandized Unitary Executive branch.  If Rice or Gonzales refuses to comply with the rule of law on the 16th, 17th, or 18th, or if Congress finally subpoenas Rove and Miers and they refuse to comply, the result should be an unstoppable public demand for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney.  It will be up to the public to act, because Congress's options will be limited.

Blogger Kagro X writes: "Congress has only three enforcement mechanisms: two types of contempt of Congress proceedings, and impeachment.  Of the two kinds of contempt applicable to this situation (there is a third, not available for use against executive branch officials), only one is 'feasible,' and I use that term advisedly.  Normally, when you're in contempt of Congress, the charges get prosecuted in court. But they're prosecuted at the discretion of... get ready... the US Attorney's office. So that's out….The other remedy short of impeachment is 'inherent contempt' (the other kind described above is 'statutory contempt')….In inherent contempt, the Sergeant at-Arms of the House or Senate (whichever is holding the person in contempt) actually goes and arrests the person and brings them before the body for trial. The trial is held in the corresponding house of Congress, where a majority vote convicts.  Penalty: jail time. The person may be held until the end of the Congress that convicted.  Interesting, but if you ask me, if you're going to go through the trouble of having a trial in Congress, have the one that counts." 

April 28 is impeachment day.  People, get ready!

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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