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Gonzales, Pelosi, and the Survival of Congress

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A shorter version of this article is published as text and an audio podcast at www.anationdeceived.org

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that if she were not Speaker she would probably back impeachment.  Other Congress Members are of course free to do what even she admits she would do in their position.  They should, I think, start taking her advice and ignoring her ban on impeachment.

The reason Pelosi is being questioned about impeachment has to do with Gonzo, Alberto Gonzales, and a proposal just introduced to impeach him.  In the movement to impeach Cheney and Bush, is this a distraction or an opening act?

Fifteen principled members of Congress, all Democrats, have signed a bill to begin the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney.  Hundreds of other Congress Members have stubbornly refused to heed the clear demand of the majority of their constituents.

But suddenly a completely new group of Congress Members, again all Democrats, has announced support for impeaching Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.  This groups includes Congress Members who are not usually leaders in the cause of justice.  And it includes Members who have been lobbied intensely to impeach Cheney and Bush but who have resisted in favor of heeding Speaker Nancy Pelosi's ban on using the Constitution in Congress.

The initial sponsor is Jay Inslee of Washington State who less than six months ago had to lobby the leadership of his state's legislature not to permit a vote on a pro-impeachment resolution.  One of the initial cosponsors is Tom Udall of New Mexico, whose state legislature also came close to passing such a resolution.  There were rumors in New Mexico that – as in Washington State – pressure against the resolution had come from DC. 

Other cosponsors are Xavier Becera, Michael Arcuri, Ben Chandler, Dennis Moore, Bruce Braley, Earl Blumenauer, and Peter DeFazio.  From this list of names it should be clear that this is not a statement against illegal war.  This is not a declaration of progressive principles in opposition to illegal spying, detentions, torture, and murder, much less the plundering of the poor to enrich a corporate oligarchy.  Rather, this is statement at long last of a minimal willingness to defend the rule of law and the power of Congress.  These House Members did not raise impeachment when Gonzales backed illegal spying, torture, and detentions, or when it first became clear that he had used the Justice Department as a wing of the Republican National Committee.  They spoke up after Gonzales repeatedly lied to Congress and refused to answer Senators' questions. 

Of course, there may be a confluence of influences behind this decision.  Two forces are pushing impeachment forward.  One is American citizens, who have recently become much more aggressive, sitting in Congressional offices, and standing in front of them with Honk-to-Impeach signs that have a tendency to disrupt entire days of work.  The other is the Bush-Cheney administration, which has in recent weeks refused to comply with subpoenas, announced that it will refuse to cooperate with contempt citations, and of course commuted the sentence of a top staffer convicted of obstructing justice.

Now, merely impeaching Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would fall as short of what's needed as merely convicting I. Lewis Scooter Libby. Both men are covering up the crimes of Cheney and Bush. But impeaching Gonzo and sending him packing might just open the door to impeachment, might in fact restore impeachment in many people's minds to a place of honor (rather than sex scandal) in our system of checks and balances.  If the Democratic leadership allows Gonzales to be impeached, or is forced to see it happen, we may jump a big step closer to impeaching Cheney, whether Nancy Pelosi intended that to be the result or not.  Timing in this will be a factor.  If Congress takes all of August off and then drags Gonzales' impeachment out for weeks, the clock may tick too far ahead.  Our job is to speed them along.  Another factor may be Senate conviction or acquittal.  Our job is to push for Senate conviction while praising the House already for impeachment and demanding that Cheney's impeachment get underway.

Inslee's resolution is short and sweet, but a blank slate that opens itself up to any tangential time-wasting investigation imaginable.  And there are the usual two problems with investigations: they're not needed and they can't pry anything out of the Bush-Cheney administration.  After all, that's why we're impeaching Gonzales: for refusing to answer questions and lying.  Inslee's bill reads as follows:

Directing the Committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.
1 Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary shall
2 investigate fully whether sufficient grounds exist for the
3 House of Representatives to impeach Alberto R. Gonzales,
4 Attorney General of the United States, for high crimes
5 and misdemeanors.

We have a petition to Congress people can sign at Democrats.com and AfterDowningStreet.org that lists several of Gonzo's crimes.  One relates to torture.

On 1/25/02, Gonzales wrote a memo to President Bush authorizing the commission of war crimes by claiming the war against terrorism "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

On 8/1/02, Gonzales commissioned a memo to President Bush which defined "torture" only as an interrogation that causes "injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions." This definition is contrary to The War Crimes Act and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Unusual or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty ratified by the United States. Although this memo was retracted on 12/30/04, it remained in effect for over two years and authorized an unknown number of acts of torture.

Gonzales knew or should have known that, pursuant to memoranda written by, commissioned or concurred in by him, prisoners in United States custody would be subjected to willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment; and great suffering or serious injury to body or health, in violation of The War Crimes Act.

COUNT II involves Military Commissions

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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 http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
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