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Truthout Editorial: Impeachment and the Table

Impeachment and the Table

t r u t h o u t | Editorial

Monday 13 November 2006

A compelling argument can certainly be made that, given all that the country now faces, an impeachment of George W. Bush by the new Democratic Congress would do more to further divide the nation than heal it. Ironically, many of Mr. Bush's critics have dubbed Mr. Bush himself "the great divider." Whether you blame Mr. Bush for the social divisions in America or not, deep and abiding social divisions, particularly over the morass in Iraq, are undeniable, and healing those divisions should be of paramount importance to the new Congress. Equally undeniable are the political risks for a new Democratic Congress that would pursue impeachment shortly after taking back the gavel for the first time in over a decade.

However, in stating flatly that "impeachment is off the table," incoming Speaker Pelosi and incoming Chairman Conyers appear to have erred rather substantially. Impeachment, of course, is a matter of Constitutional law, not personal discretion on the part of individual lawmakers. The pre-emptive nature of the decision by Pelosi and Conyers stands in sharp contrast to every principle of law enforcement. Congress - whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans - has a solemn duty to uphold and when necessary enforce the law.

If there is some reason that impeachment is not warranted in a given circumstance, it should be stated in that context. But for an individual lawmaker, any individual lawmaker, to presume to preclude impeachment regardless of the circumstances scoffs at the Constitution. The great danger is that individuals in official positions might choose to assume unto themselves the power of the law at their personal discretion. If the last six years have taught us anything, it is that such hubris leads to ruin.

White House attorneys have even gone so far as to argue that Mr. Bush is a "unitary executive," and thus entitled to assume omnipotent legal power in all matters. Not at some point in the past, but this day. At the risk of seeing the day that such largess is the presumed entitlement of all elected officials, it is best that as a nation we chart a course back to the comparatively safe harbor of due process.

The Constitution provides impeachment as a remedy for "high crimes and misdemeanors." It is important to note that the category at issue is high crimes. We are mired in a military operation, with no end in sight and a human toll approaching catastrophic in proportion. Impeachment raises its head in this dialog because evidence exists that Mr. Bush and other White House officials may have deliberately misled the nation on the road to Baghdad. Deliberately. If true, the law itself mandates action under due process. Such action is expressly non-discretionary.

During the Iraq Resolution debate, a white-haired Robert Byrd of West Virginia stood on the floor of the Senate and argued with a haunting passion that the Congress did not, under Constitutional law, have the right to reassign war-making power to the president. It was, he implored, an abandonment of Congressional duty. Maybe that old man knew what he was talking about after all.


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