Jennifer Van Bergen is a journalist with a law degree. Her book The Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America has been called a “primer for citizenship.” She can be reached at email@example.com.
With the Democrats in the majority in Congress for the first time in 12 years, and after six years of executive overreach and civil liberties incursions by the Republican administration and Congress, one would think impeachment would be in the air. But many progressives and Democrats—even some who have been on the front lines demanding investigations and prosecutions—view impeachment as the wrong approach and a waste of effort. They say that impeachment can’t take place without Republican backing, which will never happen. They say that impeachment will take time and energy away from more important business, such as getting out of Iraq, lowering taxes, congressional ethics and pulling our budget back into line.
These arguments present a false dilemma, however. The choice is not between impeachment and Iraq, or impeachment and ethics, or impeachment and the budget. Impeachment proceedings are not the beginning but the end result of a healing process for the nation that needs to begin now. Impeachment begins with investigations.
The ever-growing list of egregious wrongs by this administration has been hypocritically ignored by the Republican Congress. When you remember what the Republicans did to Clinton over a peccadillo and compare that to the high crimes committed by Bush and his administration, there should not even be an argument over whether to move toward serious investigations with impeachment in mind. We are not talking bipartisanship; we are talking about law and morals.
The charges against this administration are so extensive there are several books that make the legal case (John Nichols, Elizabeth Holzman, Center for Constitutional Rights, David Lindorff and Barbara Olshansky, Howard Zinn).
Impeachment groups have formed across the country; at least one major city council, San Francisco’s, passed an impeachment resolution; the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers, has issued a 200-plus page report; and there has even a citizens’ impeachment trial, complete with indictment, hearing and verdict.
The grounds for impeachment are far greater now than they were when Congress threatened to impeach President Nixon and there is a tremendous groundswell for impeachment which the newly-elected Congress would do well to heed.
Congress must start the national healing process by selecting an independent prosecutor. We don’t need another commission to merely make a report that finds some comfortable middle and allows the administration to play the national security card to further hide its wrongdoing. A prosecutor will be able to gather evidence from all corners, interview those with real information and see the entire picture. He or she can decide, on the basis of the law, where culpability lies and what charges to bring.
A sitting president or vice president cannot be tried in a court of law This is why impeachment is necessary at the end of investigation, if criminal acts are found. If an independent prosecutor finds that our leaders have committed crimes, this information must be brought before the House, and that body must vote to bring impeachment charges against them. The prosecutor could wait until the officials leave office, but there are strong reasons not to do so. First, if our leaders are criminals, they should not be permitted to retain office for even one more day; impeachment will stop the crimes from continuing. If we allow criminal officials to remain in office, we are as guilty as they for their crimes. It is already clear that this administration has severely damaged America’s reputation abroad and undermined our ability to hold other nations accountable to high moral ideals. Impeachment will ameliorate some of these effects.
Finally, there is a great sense of powerlessness and rage that the populace expressed strongly through the midterm elections. But more than elections are needed to address the deep concerns so many people have. A nagging malaise, a gray depression has afflicted the country, and ordinary people—those who are not politicians or journalists or activists or lawyers—have no outlet for these feelings and no sense of remedy.
Democracy is about the power of voice. All people have the right to speak and be heard. But the past six years have silenced millions, and merely putting the Democrats (whose track record is not sufficiently better than the Republicans to warrant celebration) back into office will not end the silence or cure the depression or the sense of powerlessness. Americans know that crimes have been committed in their name. Many now perhaps wish that the wrongs would simply fade and all would be as it was before. But we all know that crimes demand punishment. Punishment is the only way to even partially repair the damage.
Immediate investigation with an eye to impeachment may also forestall war with Iran and prevent worse action in Iraq. Cabinet members facing a criminal investigation and impeachment will think twice before they commit more criminal acts.
The right wing is already regrouping and restarting nasty attacks against Democrats who threaten their belligerent drives. We have the initiative now. We will lose it if Republicans take the stage and are allowed to divert attention away from the real issues.
This nation has been deeply injured, but not by the continued threat of terrorism. Instead, we have been afflicted by the criminal acts and executive overreaches of this administration. Cancer cannot be healed by being avoided; if we do not root out the causes, this cancer will spread from within. If we do not find a way to begin healing now and learn to engage again in healthy national discourse, the Democrats cannot save us. Nobody can.