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The Two Biggest Public Secrets

The Two Biggest Public Secrets, and How Bush Just Signing Statemented Iraq


By David Swanson

As noted by the uniquely vigilant Charlie Savage in the Boston Globe, President Bush in November issued a signing statement unconstitutionally overturning 10 sections of H.R. 3222, the "Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2008." Among the little technical details Bush just erased was the requirement that he not take funds appropriated to the Pentagon for one thing and use them for something else.

So, for example, were Congress to stop passing bills to fund the occupation of Iraq, or never pass a bill to fund an attack on Iran, it wouldn't matter to Bush and Cheney. (Cheney's lawyer writes the signing statements.)

On January 31, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on Bush's signing statements at which John Elwood, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, testified that signing statements carry no more force than press releases. Then in June 2007, the Government Accountability Office reported that in a sample of Bush signing statements the office had studied, for 30 percent of them the Bush administration had already proceeded to violate the laws the statements claimed the right to violate. So, the signing statements may carry no force, but they offer good predictions of future crimes. And someone should let our Supreme Court justices know that the statements have no force, so they stop citing them. Someone should also inform recent victims of U.S. torture.

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On September 10, 2007, General David Petraeus testified before the House Armed Services Committee, where Rep. Brad Sherman asked Petraeus what he would do if Congress stopped funding the occupation of Iraq and Bush illegally ordered him to keep it going. Petraeus' answer that he'd have to ask his lawyer is less interesting than Sherman's question, which demonstrated awareness of how Bush would react to a cut off of funds. On November 6, Sherman voted against tabling the impeachment of Cheney, but he has not sponsored a resolution for it or moved to begin hearings.

Little known to American media consumers are the following basic facts: The Pentagon is rolling in mountains of money and could fund the occupation of Iraq without receiving money for that purpose. The President misappropriated funds from the Pentagon to lay the groundwork for the invasion of Iraq, and Congress knows this but has never complained. Congress has banned the use of funds for the construction of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq, and Bush has continued their construction. Bush has used massive amounts of money for a long list of programs that were not only never funded but also illegal for other reasons. These include spying programs that violate the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

All of this suggests that were Congress to cut off the funding for the occupation of Iraq, Bush would continue it anyway. His latest signing statement will be read by Congress as an announcement of that fact. But this point will appear to the average American media consumer as irrelevant, given the Democrats' supposed inability to cut off the funding anyway.

One of the two biggest open secrets in American politics is that no bill is needed to end the legal funding of the occupation of Iraq. The occupation can be ended with an announcement by Congressional leaders that there will be no more funding. Any proposal to fund it can be blocked by 41 senators, or by one if his name is Reid. Bush has plenty of money for withdrawal (an understatement so dramatic it feels dishonest) and could be given more for that exclusive purpose (if Congress insisted). When your television tells you that the Democrats need 60 or 67 senators in order to end the occupation, your television is lying to you.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could if they wanted announce today that the House and Senate will no longer bring to a vote any bills to fund anything other than withdrawal. They have many colleagues already on board with that position, not to mention two thirds of the country. It would take 218 signatures on a discharge petition to force a bill to the floor of the House without Pelosi's approval. It is unlikely enough Democrats would oppose their party to fund Bush's occupation in that way. In the Senate, Reid alone could refuse to bring a bill to the floor, or another senator could put a secret hold on a bill. And, while not all bills can be filibustered (appropriations bills can be, budget reconciliation bills cannot), you can hardly claim you need 60 votes to get past a filibuster without admitting that with only 41 you could launch your own filibuster and that with 51 you could defeat any bill. Once we understand the goal as blocking bills rather than passing them, the number of allies we need shrinks dramatically. Blocking a bill in either the House or the Senate is sufficient to block it.

Here's a transcript of Reid admitting that he could block the funding but won't.

Of course, Reid and many other Senators are routinely referred to as "critics" of the Iraq "war". But a war is something that can be won or lost, a contest between two nation's armies. What we have in Iraq is a hostile foreign occupation that can never be won. And a critic is someone who sits on the sidelines and critiques. Senators do not sit on the sidelines of this occupation. On the contrary, they fund it. They fund it by refusing every time to filibuster the funding bills. (When Senator Dodd threatened to filibuster immunity for telecoms, his colleagues backed off, but he refuses to filibuster the occupation.) And they fund it by ignoring Bush's announcement that he will take money from elsewhere if he needs to.

Why is Congress so scared to act against the least popular project in many years by confronting the least popular president and vice president this country has ever seen? Why do some in Congress choose to fund the occupation precisely because Bush would fund it anyway? Why does the House Judiciary Committee allow open crimes to be publicly announced with signing statements posted on the White House website, and not stir? Why has Congress allowed executive refusal to comply with subpoenas to become routine, after the precedent of passing an article of impeachment against Nixon for a similar refusal?

I think, fairly clearly, the primary reason for all of this is Nancy Pelosi's unconstitutional, unconscionable, and even politically unjustifiable, aversion to impeachment. Her arguments have, however, long since been answered.

But what about peace activist organizations? Why do they go along with the pretense of supporting bills destined to be vetoed rather than demanding a cut off of funds or - what is ultimately required - impeachment? I don't have a good answer, but part of he answer is the influence on activists of politicians who tell them that they are friends, who make them feel powerful, and who echo what everyone hears on their televisions about the Democrats' inability to act no matter how much they supposedly want to, and about the supposedly all-important elections 12 months away.

The other of the two biggest public secrets in U.S. politics is that you, dear reader, are not a freak. You imagine that you are in a minority wanting to end the occupation, and so you worry about persuading your neighbors rather than forcing your congress members to act. You suppose that only a handful of people want impeachment or single-payer health care or green energy, even though these are all majority positions. And, most dramatically, you imagine that because you are a freak, the candidates you feel inclined to support for public office must be different from the candidates you should, as an educated TV viewer, actually support.

But this is how democracy dies. This is democracy stripped from our souls, where Walt Whitman tried to plant it, and installed in the machinations of corporate pundits and corrupt parties. Until we can believe that who we like and what we want of them are things that others share, until we define our personal preferences as precisely what is most "viable", we can have no growing democracy. We are currently keeping secret from ourselves the idea that we even want it.


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