You are browsing the archive for Impeachment.

Not Impeaching Bush Is Sure Paying Off!

10:55 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Many loyal Republicans opposed impeaching George W. Bush.  So did most liberal and progressive activist groups, labor unions, peace organizations, churches, media outlets, journalists, pundits, organizers, and bloggers, not to mention most Democratic members of Congress, most Democrats dreaming of someday being in Congress, and — toward the end of the Bush presidency — most supporters of candidate Barack Obama or candidate Hillary Clinton.

Remarkably in the face of this opposition, a large percentage and often a majority of Americans told pollsters that Bush should be impeached.  It’s not clear, however, that everyone understood why impeachment was needed.  Some might have supported a successful impeachment of Bush and then turned around and tolerated identical crimes and abuses by a Democrat, assuming a Democrat managed to engage in them.  But this is the point: whoever followed Bush’s impeachment would have been far less likely to repeat and expand on his tyrannical policies.  And the reason many of us wanted Bush impeached — as we said at the time — was to prevent that repetition and expansion, which we said was virtually inevitable if impeachment was not pursued.

Can You Hear Me Now?

“You just hate Republicans” was the most common argument against impeachment, but there were others.  “It’s more important to elect someone different.”  “Why do you want President Cheney?”  “Why do you want President Pelosi?”  “Why distract from good work?”  “Why put the country through trauma?”  “Why not focus on ending war?”  “Why not do investigations?”  “Why divide the Democrats?”  “Why start a process that can’t succeed?”  “Why destroy the Democratic Party the way impeaching Clinton destroyed the Republican Party?”  We answered these questions as patiently as possible at great length and enormous repetition for years and years.

People pursued alternatives to impeachment, from spreading the word about how bad the crimes and abuses were, to pushing legislation to redundantly re-criminalize Bush’s criminal behavior, to promoting supposedly lesse-evil candidates, to promoting truly good candidates, to constructing ways to drop out of society and wash one’s hands of it.  The trouble was that when you let a president spy without warrant, imprison without charge, torture, kill, lie, make war, operate in secret, rewrite laws, and persecute whistleblowers, you can predict — as we predicted for years — that the next president will adopt and build on the same policies.  Nothing short of punishing the offender will deter the successor.

In fact, the new president, working with Congress and all of his other facilitators, has turned abuses into policies.  The scandal and secretiveness have been replaced with executive orders and legislation.  Crimes are now policy choices.  Checking off lists of murder victims is official open policy.  Secret laws are normal.  Secretly rewritten laws are established practice.  Spying in violation of the Fourth Amendment is openly defended and “legalized,” with sporadic bursts of public outrage and establishment excusing, following new detailed revelations.  Whistleblowing is being transformed into treason.

This moment offers certain opportunities.  It is well-placed in between the election seasons that so debilitate the nation.  Also, bravery and integrity seem to be spreading like a contagion.  Intimidation is backfiring.  Resistance is growing, and so is whistleblowing.  Bradley Manning and Thomas Drake and Matthew Hoh and Coleen Rowley and John Kiriakou and Jesselyn Radack and many others are inspiring new whistleblowers like Edward Snowden (support him here!), and like the member of the Joint Special Operations Command who spoke out for the first time at our forum on the opening of the film Dirty Wars in D.C. on Saturday.

However, what failure to impeach Bush has done to legitimize his crimes is nothing compared to what it has done to delegitimize impeachment.  If a tyrannical president who liberals hated and who talked funny and who didn’t even pretend to be killing for some higher benevolent purpose can’t be impeached, then who can?  Surely not an intelligent, articulate African American who pretends to agree with us and gives speeches denouncing his own policies?

But this is the same problem as before.  Making speeches against Bush’s abuses was not enough.  Clapping for speeches against Obama’s abuses — even speeches by Obama — is not enough.  There is a reason why people abuse power.  Power corrupts them.  And absolute power corrupts them absolutely.  Telling a handful of Congress members who are forbidden to speak about it, and most of whom don’t really give a damn, what sort of outrages you are up to is not a system of checks and balances or the rule of law.

Refusal to impeach pulls the foundation out from under representative government.  Congress won’t impeach for violation of subpoenas, so it avoids issuing subpoenas, and it therefore can’t compel production of witnesses or documents, so it doesn’t take a position on an important matter, so the unofficial U.S. state media takes no position either, and people follow the media.

Would impeaching Obama invite rightwing delusional charges?  Would it send confusing signals rather than clear ones, given Bush’s free pass?  Not if Obama and Bush were impeached together.  They’ve both committed many of the same high crimes.  Impeachment can take place after leaving office.  The time has come to restore seriousness to the serious tool the Constitution provides for checking presidential power.  The time has come to impeach Bush and Obama.

Is Impeachment Gone for Good?

8:18 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Henry Kissinger’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize didn’t, in the end, eliminate satire from the earth (or peace prizes for war-makers, for that matter). Conceivably, the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the lack of impeachment of George W. Bush haven’t eliminated presidential impeachment from the Constitution.

Has Obama committed what were once impeachable offenses?

I’ll grant you, it looks pretty grim. Congress is dominated by the two real branches of the U.S. government: the Democratic and the Republican. Democrats obey Democratic presidents and fear Republican ones. Republicans obey Republican presidents and attack Democratic ones for imaginary nonsense rather than their real abuses. These patterns seem firmly established and locked into escalating feedback loops, as does the unending career of Nancy “impeachment is off the table” Pelosi.

The public, for its part, seems increasingly convinced that presidents should be kings, kings should serve the military, citizens should volunteer for electoral campaigns instead of activist campaigns, and a police state is necessary to protect the freedoms sacrificed to the police state. One-third of the residents of the Home of the Brave now approve of cavity searches prior to airplane travel.

But consider: the U.S. public, unlike Congress, opposed the Clinton impeachment and favored Bush’s impeachment — the latter a rather remarkable finding by pollsters given the general lack of impeachment discussion on corporate television during the Bush years. Many Republicans hate Democratic presidents enough to support their impeachment even for legitimate reasons. And some Democrats could conceivably be brought around to supporting an impeachment that was both Constitutionally solid and allowed them to act like Republicans.

These presidents have faced impeachment or serious attempts at impeachment as lame ducks: Andrew Johnson, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and — if we count popular movements blocked decisively by Congress — George W. Bush. While Barack Obama was just reelected with 51% of the vote, Nixon got 61% and was quickly thrown out on his ear.

And consider this: During the effort to impeach Bush, there was virtually no debate over the validity of the charges against him. Rather, our misrepresentatives in Congress told us that impeaching Bush would give us Cheney or impeaching Cheney would leave us Bush, or impeaching Bush and Cheney would hurt the Democratic Party because the unpopular impeachment of Clinton had supposedly hurt Republicans (never mind the disaster of the Albert “I never met Bill Clinton” Gore presidential campaign). Or, alternatively, we were told there was no point in impeaching Bush when he only had a few years left, or Hillary Clinton was running for president and preferred that impeachment not be mentioned, or the Senate wasn’t pre-committed to convicting Bush so there was no requirement for House members to uphold their oaths of office. None of the debate actually disputed that Bush was clearly guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors — that is, severe abuses of power.

Now here’s the interesting part: Obama has expanded upon those abuses.

In fact, if Bush had been known to keep a secret list of men, women, and children, American and foreign, to be killed, and had routinely killed them, support for his impeachment would not have been the bare majority it was but almost certainly a good deal higher and a greater priority.

We were told, when we tried to impeach Bush and Cheney, that we simply hated those men. No, we replied, we want to prevent the precedent that will make the next men or women worse — guaranteed. That our gloomy prediction has proved right ought to constitute grounds for being taken seriously now when we say that further failure to impeach will result in still worse abuses to come. The simple and obvious, but almost universally uncomprehended, point is not that Joe Biden or Mitt Romney or anyone else is a better human being than Barack Obama. The point is that a President Biden entering office following the impeachment and removal of his predecessor for particular crimes and abuses would be less likely to engage in those crimes and abuses, as would other presidents to come.

President Obama has developed an assassination program, in violation of the Fifth Amendment, targeting men, women, and children, but overwhelmingly killing non-targeted victims who happened to be in the wrong place. He has launched a war on Libya, facilitated a war on Syria, sent so-called special forces and drones and missiles into numerous sovereign nations, threatened war on Iran, and given war-making powers to the CIA in violation of Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the War Powers Resolution, and the United Nations Charter. President Obama has seized the power to imprison without charge or trial in violation of Article I, Section 9 and the Forth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments. He has claimed the power to torture and directed the Attorney General not to prosecute the crime of torture, in violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. He has engaged in widespread warrantless spying in violation of the Fourth Amendment. He has escalated a war in Afghanistan and built permanent military bases there. He has selectively revealed classified information, even while falsely and vindictively prosecuting whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, and while holding accused whistleblower Bradley Manning in cruel and inhuman conditions for over two years prior to any trial. President Obama has abused claims of state secrets to block judicial review of government abuses. He has created secret laws through the Office of Legal Counsel. He has announced his intent to violate laws with signing statements.

A full collection of what would in previous decades have been considered obvious impeachable offenses would run for pages. Standards have changed. As Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out, Nixon’s abuses have now been legalized. But can a president or a secret office or a corrupted Congress legalize what is unconstitutional? Clearly the answer is yes, if we let them.

Photo: BeckyF under a Creative Commons License on Flickr

27 of 35 Bush Articles of Impeachment Fit Obama

8:43 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

When Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced 35 articles of impeachment against President George W. Bush on June 9, 2008, the 35 had been selected from drafts of nearly twice that many articles.

President Obama has accumulated his own massive list of high crimes and misdemeanors that were unavailable for Bush’s list (thing’s like openly murdering U.S. citizens, launching massive drone wars, selectively and abusively prosecuting numerous whistleblowers as spies, holding Bradley Manning naked in isolation, attacking Libya without so much as bothering to lie to Congress, etc.).

Nonetheless, it is instructive to review the 35 Bush articles in the Obama age.  It quickly becomes apparent that Obama has either exactly duplicated or closely paralleled most of the 35.  Here’s what I mean:

Article XXVI
Announcing the Intent to Violate Laws with Signing Statements.

Click the link to read the article introduced against Bush.  Obama campaigned against this abuse and has routinely engaged in it as president.  Worse, he has established the policy of silently relying on previous Bush or Obama signing statements rather than restating his intention to violate laws each time such intention is relevant to a bill he is signing.

Article XXII
Creating Secret Laws.

Obama similarly uses Department of Justice arguments to reverse the commonly understood meaning of laws (bombing Libya is neither war nor hostilities, for example).  And he similarly uses arguments that are kept away from public sight.  While the United Nations, foreign nations, and human rights groups have questioned the legality of drone strikes, Obama has not provided his legal defense or even felt obliged to make any assertion as to which victims were intended and which were “collateral damage.”  This week the ACLU sued for release of such information.  In addition, Obama announced in 2009 that he would review all of Bush’s signing statements and decide which ones to keep as law and which to discard, but the public has never been told the outcome of that review.

Article XVII
Illegal Detention: Detaining Indefinitely And Without Charge Persons Both U.S. Citizens and Foreign Captives.

Obama did this from day one, proclaimed it in front of the Constitution in the National Archives, formalized it in an executive order, signed it into law this past New Year’s Eve, and expanded the practice at Bagram.

Article XXIII
Violation of the Posse Comitatus Act.

Obama has continued each abuse detailed here and added to them, including through his use of the military to keep journalists away from the BP oil disaster and in an effort to break a strike at the ports of the Pacific Northwest.

Article XIX
Rendition: Kidnapping People and Taking Them Against Their Will to “Black Sites” Located in Other Nations, Including Nations Known to Practice Torture.

Obama has publicly claimed the power to continue this practice, in fact continued this practice, maintained black sites despite announcing an end to them, and worked to coverup and protect related crimes by his predecessor.

Article XX
Imprisoning Children.

Obama has continued this practice and added to it the murdering of children, refusing to say that Abdel-Rahman Anwar al-Awlaki was not intentionally targeted or that he, Obama, does not have the legal power to murder U.S. children.  Non-U.S. children continue to die in significant numbers from drone strikes and by other means (including intentional targeting from helicopter) as part of Obama’s escalated war on Afghanistan.

Article XVIII
Torture: Secretly Authorizing, and Encouraging the Use of Torture Against Captives in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Other Places, as a Matter of Official Policy.

Obama has claimed the power to torture, worked to coverup and protect related crimes by his predecessor, and continued to allow torture.  He has also pressured other nations, including Spain, to drop prosecutorial investigations of U.S. crimes of torture.

Article XXIV
Spying on American Citizens, Without a Court-Ordered Warrant, in Violation of the Law and the Fourth Amendment.

Obama has continued these practices and worked to coverup and protect related crimes by his predecessor.

Article XXV
Directing Telecommunications Companies to Create an Illegal and Unconstitutional Database of the Private Telephone Numbers and Emails of American Citizens.

Obama has continued these practices and worked to coverup and protect related crimes by his predecessor and guilty corporations.

Article XXI
Misleading Congress and the American People About Threats from Iran, and Supporting Terrorist Organizations Within Iran, With the Goal of Overthrowing the Iranian Government.

Obama has continued these practices.  In his most recent State of the Union speech he said, “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.  But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible . . . if Iran changes course.”  When Iran recently took down a U.S. drone, Obama simply asked that it be returned.

Article XVI
Reckless Misspending and Waste of U.S. Tax Dollars in Connection With Iraq and US Contractors.

Obama’s Pentagon is no more audited or accountable, nor the routine scandals involving misplaced millions or billions of dollars less frequent.  No-bid contracts have increased.  Privatization has increased.  Secrecy has increased.  The use of Special Forces in secret non-war wars has spread to more nations.  The permanent stationing of U.S. troops has spread to more nations.  Secret agencies, including the CIA, have been given larger war-making roles.  And Obama continued the war on Iraq long beyond the date by which he had promised to end it, and continues to maintain thousands of mercenaries in Iraq, and to use drones in the skies of Iraq.  He has also worked to coverup and protect related crimes by his predecessor.

Article XV
Providing Immunity from Prosecution for Criminal Contractors in Iraq.

Obama’s insistence on continuing this practice not just beyond 2008 but beyond 2011, combined with the Iraqi government’s refusal to agree, resulted in Obama’s decision to comply with the Bush-Maliki treaty to end the war on Iraq by this past New Year’s Eve.

Article XXX
Misleading Congress and the American People in an Attempt to Destroy Medicare.

The details have to be changed to apply this article to Obama.  The changes are not in Obama’s favor.  Obama met in secret with the CEOs of health insurance corporations and pursued a vision of healthcare reform that they had secretly influenced.  In so doing, he misled Congress and the American people.  He is quite open, in contrast, about his willingness to slash Medicare, as well as Medicaid.

Article XXXI
Katrina: Failure to Plan for the Predicted Disaster of Hurricane Katrina, Failure to Respond to a Civil Emergency.

The victims of Katrina have still not been compensated, nor the environmental and urban damage undone.  Instead the BP oil disaster has been added.  Obama intentionally misled the Congress and the public, downplaying the quantity of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.  He allowed a clean-up operation that was nothing of the sort.  No real clean-up or recovery is planned.  Nor have the corporations or their supposed regulators been held accountable.

Article XXXII
Misleading Congress and the American People, Systematically Undermining Efforts to Address Global Climate Change.

Obama’s approach to systematically undermining efforts to address global climate change has included blocking possible global agreements at meetings in Denmark and South Africa, while promoting “clean coal,” “natural gas,” and “safe fracking.”

Article XIV
Misprision of a Felony, Misuse and Exposure of Classified Information And Obstruction of Justice in the Matter of Valerie Plame Wilson, Clandestine Agent of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The exposing of a secret agent has not been repeated, but retribution against whistleblowers has been taken to new heights with more prosecutions under the Espionage Act than by all previous presidents combined.

Article XXXIV
Obstruction of the Investigation into the Attacks of September 11, 2001.

We’re still waiting.

Now, we come to the launching of the war on Iraq:

Article I
Creating a Secret Propaganda Campaign to Manufacture a False Case for War Against Iraq.

Article II
Falsely, Systematically, and with Criminal Intent Conflating the Attacks of September 11, 2001, With Misrepresentation of Iraq as a Security Threat as Part of Fraudulent Justification for a War of Aggression.

Article III
Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, to Manufacture a False Case for War.

Article IV
Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Posed an Imminent Threat to the United States.

Article V
Illegally Misspending Funds to Secretly Begin a War of Aggression.

Article VI
Invading Iraq in Violation of the Requirements of HJRes114.

Article VII
Invading Iraq Absent a Declaration of War.

Article VIII
Invading Iraq, A Sovereign Nation, in Violation of the UN Charter.

Article XII
Initiating a War Against Iraq for Control of That Nation’s Natural Resources.

Article XIIII
Creating a Secret Task Force to Develop Energy and Military Policies With Respect to Iraq and Other Countries.

It was too late for Obama to exactly duplicate these offenses, as the war against Iraq was already underway.  But President Obama has embraced the lies that launched that war.  He claimed in 2010 that the war on Iraq had been launched in order to disarm that nation.  In the news around the world on the day of Obama’s most recent State of the Union speech was the anger among Iraqis at the failure of the United States to hold anyone seriously accountable for the 2005 massacre in Haditha.  The story was a useful reminder of how the operations of the U.S. military over the past decade have fueled hostility toward our nation.  President Obama began his speech by claiming the opposite, asserting that the war on Iraq has made us safer and “more respected around the world.”  Obama has repeatedly used such rhetoric to pivot to promotion of his escalated war in Afghanistan or other military operations.  Similarly, President Obama misled the nation about the purpose and nature of a war on Libya that has left Libya, like Iraq, in worse shape, and which has left Constitutional war powers in tatters, as the Congress declared itself opposed to the war and the war continued.  Meanwhile misleading propaganda about Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other nations continues to emerge from the Obama administration.  The Director of National Intelligence has just claimed that Iran is a threat to the United States.  While the Iraq War may have “ended,” the Authorization for the Use of Military Force has been kept in place allowing Obama to use it as a legal argument for other military operations and abuses of civil rights.  Also emerging with ever greater frankness from the Obama White House and Pentagon, including from the President, is the claim of presidential prerogative to launch military attacks on sovereign nations, involving deaths to both militants and civilians, without any consideration of Congress, the Constitution, the War Powers Resolution, the United Nations or its Charter, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, or any other law.

There is no quantitative way to measure whether Obama’s additions to the presidential powers accumulated by Bush and Bush’s predecessors equals or exceeds those added by Bush.  But measured against the pre-Bush baseline, or against the written rule of law, Obama’s power abuses far outstrip Bush’s, while in the category of immediate death count Bush retains a significant lead.

Would Romney or Gingrich be even worse?  That’s quite likely.  If we continue to self-censor on these matters, Obama Part II will also be significantly worse.  A popular movement against these abuses could make any White House occupant better than the current one, even if it’s the same individual.  Remember what Howard Zinn taught: It’s not who is sitting in the White House; it’s who is doing the sit-ins.

John Dean Does Not Know How to Get Rid of Clarence Thomas

7:59 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Am I the only one who noticed that ex-Nixon lawyer John Dean’s article “John Dean Knows How to Get Rid of Clarence Thomas” concludes thus: “In short, nothing is going to happen to Clarence Thomas.” Talk about false advertising!

But Dean left out of consideration one strategy, the same one that five years ago he argued against pursuing with Bush and Cheney, whom many of us at that time wanted removed from office. The strategy is the one now being advanced by RootsAction: Impeach Clarence Thomas.

The impeachable offenses have been well catalogued by Think Progress without a solution proposed. ProtectOurElections has proposed the same solution that John Dean suggests before dismissing it as hopeless: ask the Department of Justice, the one that just dismissed charges in 99 cases of murder-by-torture, to “investigate” Thomas. Investigate. As if the facts aren’t public already in sufficient quantity. William Rivers Pitt at TruthOut has had the sense to use a different I word: impeachment.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has, in fact, and beyond dispute, been very busy accepting gifts from organizations that file briefs before the court, attending political fundraisers, ruling on suits in which he or his wife have a conflict of interest, and hiding income. No wonder he hasn’t had time to ask a question from the bench in five years!

Of course, Thomas should be asked to resign! Of course the FBI should be pushed to “investigate” the case. Of course Eric Holder and the man who holds his leash, Barack Obama, should be pressured to investigate and prosecute. But the information is known. What’s needed is purely the will. To seriously take up the matter is to put Thomas in prison. It’s all or nothing. Where will we find the political pressure to make it happen, or to make Thomas resign in hopes of avoiding it? How can we create a climate in which Obama cannot comfortably refuse to act, or in which other means of accountability begin to look likely, or in which the level of shame and opprobrium actually become too great for someone like Clarence Thomas to continue to endure?

Here are three names to keep in mind:

1. Thomas Porteous. This federal judge was impeached in 2010 for charges of corruption and was removed from office.

2. Samuel Kent. This federal judge was impeached in 2009 for charges of sexual assault and abuse of power. He resigned.

And, most importantly:

3. Alberto Gonzales. This U.S. Attorney General resigned after Congressman Jay Inslee introduced — and dozens of his colleagues agreed to cosponsor — the following bill:

“Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary shall investigate fully whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to impeach Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.”

There’s that “investigate” word again. But there’s another important word here: “impeach.”

Congressman Chris Murphy has already written a letter to his colleagues asking them to sign on to a request to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith. Credo has depicted the request as one for an investigation of Thomas, but the letter actually asks for consideration of a bill that would apply the same ethical standards used in other federal courts to the Supreme Court. The letter mentions Thomas and two other judges as examples of why this is needed.

By all means, that hearing should be held and that bill be passed. But there exists a mechanism for enforcing ethical standards. It might require merely the same steps that were taken with Alberto Gonzales. No Republican House Committee is eager to hold hearings on Thomas, but what about a Democratic Senate Committee, prompted by a House move toward impeachment? Such a move could consist of 100 congress members, mostly Democrats, cosponsoring this:

“Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary shall investigate fully whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to impeach Clarence Thomas, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.”

You can ask your representative to cosponsor that through RootsAction. I encourage you to ask all your friends to do the same.

As John Nichols documented so well in his book “The Genius of Impeachment,” many successful impeachments have succeeded without conviction or even impeachment, and some without even the introduction of articles of impeachment. Alberto Gonzales was merely threatened with impeachment. There were powerful people he could have squealed on who probably urged him to leave, but that is likely to be true for Thomas as well. Gonzales was unable to find work in any law firm following his resignation. By contrast, the Congressman who proposed consideration of his impeachment is now a serious candidate for Governor of Washington.

Clarence Thomas richly deserves to follow in Alberto Gonzales’ footsteps.

Is Obama Even Worse Than Bush?

7:09 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

When I advocated the impeachment of George W. Bush, I did so despite, not because of, all the animosity it fueled among impeachment supporters.  I didn’t want retribution.  I wanted to deter the continuation and repetition of Bush’s crimes and abuses.  Specifically, and by far most importantly — and I said this thousands of times — I wanted to deny all future presidents the powers Bush had grabbed.  One-time abuses can be catastrophic, but establishing the power to repeat them can multiply the damage many fold, especially when one of the powers claimed is the power to create new powers.

There’s a common tendency to confuse politics with reality television shows or to imagine that politicians are, even more than fictional heroes, your own personal friends.  This tendency is only compounded by the partisan framework in which we are instructed to imagine half the politicians as purely evil and the other half as essentially good.  So, let’s be clear.  There’s very little question that Barack Obama speaks more eloquently than Bush, and that Obama at times (and more so as a candidate than as a president) expresses far kinder and wiser sentiments than Bush.  It seems quite likely to me that had Obama been made president in 2000 he would have done far less damage than Bush by 2008.  Obama is probably a fun guy to play basketball with, while Bush might be expected to throw elbows, kick opponents, and pull your shorts down.  But I’m interested in something more important than the spectacle of personality here.  I think Obama would make a wonderful powerless figurehead, and I dearly wish that were what he was.  I think Americans clearly need one.

Three rough ways of looking at a president might be as follows.  First, in the unimaginable circumstance in which a president encountered a homeless person on the street, would he invite him to live in the White House, or help him find a home, be nice and give him $1, ignore him, shout at him to get a job, kick him in the guts, or help him into a van and take him off to be tortured?  I don’t care about that way of looking at presidents.  Second, do the policies the president pursues lead to massive numbers of people becoming homeless or worse?  Third, do the policies the president pursues empower all future presidents to make unfathomable numbers of people suffer horribly?  My contention is that Obama has not yet done as much damage as Bush in the second view but has, in a certain sense, done worse in the third view.

Richard Nixon’s White House Counsel John Dean, while Bush was president, predicted that Bush’s successor would be one of two things, either the best or the worst president in history. He, or she, would either undo the damage and prosecute the crimes, or protect the criminals and continue the abuses.  Obama has protected the criminals, continued many of the abuses, more firmly established the power to commit those abuses, and expanded abusive powers beyond what Bush ever attempted.  I’m not trying to quantify and determine whether Obama has grabbed “more” new abusive powers than Bush did.  I’m simply pointing out that, as with previous presidents, Obama has retained the powers bequeathed him and added some.

Whether the third way of looking at presidents (the powers they leave their successors) is more important, and how much more important, than the second way (the immediate damage they do to the world) involves speculation.  When William McKinley sent troops abroad without congressional approval, people died.  But a lot more people died when later presidents did the same thing.  Most of the killing and torturing done by the CIA has occurred long after Harry Truman left office.  The pattern is that powers, once established, are augmented, not curtailed; and they are used, not neglected.  A pattern doesn’t predict the future, but it can establish potential dangers.

U.S. political debate, chattering, organizing, activism, and campaigning focuses most heavily on domestic issues — even in discussions of a federal budget that devotes more than half our money to the military.  And it is on domestic issues that the biggest differences can be found between the two parties and their leading members (which is why the debate tends to stay there).  Obama appears to have appointed less crazy justices than Bush to the Supreme Court, more sane individuals to the National Labor Relations Board, etc.  Obama’s healthcare bill may have been disappointing, but at least there was one.  However, that’s a very charitable view.  Presidents controlling the drafting of legislation in accordance with their secret negotiations with corporate cartels is a bad precedent to be entrenching, the health insurance reform bill arguably does more damage than good (including through the requirement to purchase a corporate product), and the bill makes it very difficult for states to put serious healthcare solutions in place as Vermont is attempting to do — and the impediments were insisted upon by Obama.

The Education Department pushes corporatization, privatization, and testing.  The trade agreements are all corporate.  Obama has promoted the development of nuclear energy and “clean coal.”  The damage of Hurricane Katrina has been left in place, but been compounded by the BP oil gusher, during which disaster the White House’s priority seems to have been deceiving the public about the extent of the damage.  The environment may be more than a domestic issue, but it is also one where disaster looms.  As we march forward into worse weather and more frequent “natural” disasters, one might reasonably place ever greater blame on each successive president who declines to make any attempt at survival (much less one who goes to international conferences and sabotages possible global accords, as Obama did in Copenhagen).  And this is all before we look at the budget.

President Obama is taking the budget from the Bush years, adding to the military, and cutting or freezing everything else.  The budgetary crisis in state governments and in people’s homes continues to worsen.  The Wall Street and corporate bailouts that Obama helped Bush impose on us have only escalated since Obama moved to the White House.  But Obama wants everything non-military that might divert money anywhere other than the richest of the overlords to be frozen, cut, or eliminated.  When Bush tried to cut off poor people’s heat in the winter, ACORN raised hell and stopped him.  When Obama did the same, ACORN had already been eliminated.  Obama now wants to eliminate what’s left of taxes on corporations.

Obama has not added as much to the military budget as Bush did, but he has added to Bush’s largest military budget, enlarging it further each year — and with activist groups and news reports tending to falsely report that he’s cutting it.  This leads to more money for wars, less money for people, and less activism protesting these policies at the very moment when much of what remains of the peace movement has chosen to focus on budgetary issues rather than on ending wars.  Bush’s budgets were worse than they appeared because he used off-the-books supplemental bills to add more money to wars.  Obama campaigned against that practice.  Since becoming president, Obama has done just as Bush did, establishing off-the-books war spending as a normal practice favored by both parties, and establishing campaign lying as the norm as well.

For a time, Obama had more troops and mercenaries in the field than Bush had ever had.  Now he doesn’t, as a result of a partial withdrawal from Iraq.  But Obama has embraced the myth that a 2007 escalation in Iraq caused a reduction in violence there, and he has applied that myth to Afghanistan with escalations in each of the past two years leading predictably to increased violence.  Obama has taken a low-scale war in Afghanistan and dramatically worsened it.  He has ignored, covered-up, and passed the buck on endless war crimes.  He has radically expanded the use of drones, including into Pakistan.  He has sent troops into Pakistan and at one point, according to news reports, into 75 nations, 15 more than Bush.  Whether you count small-scale death squads as “wars” or not, the drone bombing of Pakistan certainly looks warlike, and that has happened without even the pretense of congressional authorization, and in the face of United Nations condemnation of illegality.  Obama has added more U.S. military bases in more foreign nations, boosted weapons sales to nations we may some day have the opportunity to fight wars against, and continued the privatization of the military and the employment of the most notorious corporations of the Bush era — helping to establish their immunity.

“Well, well, yeah, but he closed Guantanamo!”

Obama never intended to free prisoners or put them on trial.  He always intended to keep people in prison without any due process.  He just thought he might do some of it in Illinois instead of Cuba.  He’s been unable to make that move, but frankly who cares?  The question is not how many people we’re lawlessly imprisoning in Afghanistan and how many in Virginia.  The question is whether we will lawlessly imprison people.  Apparently we will.  Secret abuses under Bush have become public formal policies under Obama.  Whether to lock someone up, and even whether to torture them, has become a matter of policy preference, not of law.  Even the power to assassinate anyone, including Americans, has now become — by Obama’s decree — a matter purely of presidential whim, with no authorization from any other person or court or legislature required.

Obama announced the end of torture, not its prosecution in court.  But he continued to claim the privilege to torture if he chose to, as Leon Panetta and David Axelrod made clear.  And he openly claimed the power of extraordinary rendition, that is, the power to kidnap people and send them off to be secretly tortured in other countries.  We don’t know if this has happened.  But we wouldn’t.  We do know that torture has continued in Guantanamo, in Bagram, and in the US-backed Iraqi government.  Warrentless spying, likewise, continues and grows, while Obama has assured corporate co-conspirators of immunity.

In fact, Obama has publicly instructed the Justice Department not to prosecute torturers at the CIA, and his Justice Department has worked night and day to protect the architects of countless war crimes, including through the establishing of privileges of secrecy and immunity that Bush never even sought.  This Justice Department and our courts are establishing the right of powerful officials to immunity from criminal or civil suits that might expose what they have done while employed by our government.  Obama has also pressured a number of European nations not to prosecute the crimes of his predecessor.  And much of this has gone almost unremarked.  The outrage at crimes committed by Bush becomes vague disinterest upon learning that Obama has badgered Spain not to prosecute those very crimes.

This is the magic, the disastrous magic, of having a president of the other political party pick up the baton.  Obama gave a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in which he glorified war.  He gave a speech on wars from the Oval Office in which he embraced a whole series of lies about Iraq.  He stood in front of the U.S. Constitution in the National Archives and tossed habeas corpus into the trash bin.  Can you imagine the raging inferno of outrage had Bush done any of those things?  The process of normalizing crimes is not purely one of repetition and expansion.  It’s also one of fading the crimes into the background, making them part of the national furniture, forgetting collectively that we ever got along without them.

I mentioned the power to create new powers.  This is where we risk exponentially worse damage — to our system of government and to the world — in the coming years.  We don’t guarantee it, but we do risk it.  Avoiding it would require unprecedented steps of restraint and reversal.  Obama came into office advertising himself as the president of sunshine, transparency, and openness.  The age of secrecy was at an end!  I’m not measuring Obama against the standard of his campaign promises, although it seems fair to do so.  I’m measuring Obama against the standard of Bush, and noting that part of how Obama operates is through deceptive propaganda.  Obama has refused to release White House visitor logs from the period when he met with health insurance corporations, has maintained the right to hide any others he chooses, but released some and announced this as a breakthrough.  Meanwhile, he sends staff to meet with lobbyists just off the White House grounds in order to avoid writing anything in the visitors’ logs.

This is Bush-Cheney-level secrecy with the pretense that it isn’t.  And it’s worse.  Obama has set records for rejecting Freedom of Information Act requests and for prosecutions of whistle blowers — not to mention the lawless imprisonment and torture of alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning, a policy Obama has defended by reference to unnamed secret standards set by the military.  Just as Obama escalates wars when and how the military publicly tells him to, he takes responsibility for torturing a prisoner on the military’s say-so.  This rhetoric is not just rhetoric.  It threatens civilian rule.

Obama campaigned on the constitutional idea that the legislature makes laws.  He denounced Bush’s practice of altering laws with signing statements.  As president, Obama, for a while, used signing statements just as Bush had, to claim more powers for the president (and every future president), including this power to claim more powers.  Then Obama established the practice of assuming that prior signing statements or executive orders or secret legal memos could be used in place of new signing statements.  This is even worse and more secretive than Bush’s practice of announcing which laws he would violate.  Obama announced that he would review Bush’s signing statements and decide which ones to keep, but not whether those decisions would be public, and with no explanation of how that process was any more constitutional than Bush’s.  Obama also began making law, including “law” on lawless imprisonment by executive order.  Congressional Republicans like Buck McKeon want that particular law to be even worse, and so have objected to its imperial announcement.  But they won’t push that balance-of-powers fight very far.

Both parties have now established as flawless heroes people who engage in some of the same abuses.  And whoever’s next will be hard pressed to even call those abuses abuses, should he or she miraculously want to.  The U.S. Supreme Court accepts powers used without opposition by multiple presidents as established presidential powers.  Signing-statementing laws is now one of those powers.

So is secret and imperial war-making.  John Kerry and John McCain want Libya bombed.  John Yoo, not yet prosecuted for having “legalized” aggressive war, agrees with them.  Obama, to his great credit, has not yet taken that step.  But the debate is over policy choices, not laws.  The fact that bombing another country is illegal is no longer considered a fact in Washington, D.C.  It’s a fringe opinion.  And that is what scares me.

So why not impeach Obama?  I clamored for the impeachment of Bush.  I say Obama is as bad or worse.  Why am I such a corrupt hypocrite that I haven’t built a movement to impeach Obama?  Well, I’ll tell you, as I’ve told people more times than I can count.  Obama should be impeached and convicted and removed from office.  Obama should be prosecuted for his crimes.  So should his subordinates.  So should his predecessor, his subordinates, and all corporate co-conspirators.  The reason I can’t get 20 people into the streets to demand Obama’s impeachment (and if I did, they’d want him impeached for being born in Africa to aliens from Planet Socialism) is that nobody in Congress is even pretending to give a damn.  We were able to produce a sizeable movement for impeachment when Bush was in office, because a lot of Democrats in Congress, especially in 2005 and 2006, pretended they were on our side.  I say “pretended” as a way to indicate not that they didn’t agree with us, but that they were not committed to trying very hard.

The abolition of slavery started with one person saying it was wrong and demanding change.  We have to do that when it comes to the matter of ending the imperial presidency and establishing a representative republic.  I want anyone who engages in the abuses discussed above impeached, prosecuted, voted out of office, and shamed.  We have to pursue justice for 4 or 8 years with liberals resenting us and 4 or 8 years with rightwingers resenting us, and so on, back and forth.  That means pushing where we spot a little bit of give in the machinery.  It means exposing the torture of Bradley Manning and supporting anything Congressman Dennis Kucinich does to expose it and anything any other congress members do if any ever join him.  It means demanding a complete end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan.  And it means building viable movements of resistance at the state level as Wisconsin is doing.  Join us at the White House at noon on March 19th.  Get involved here:

Obama Was Created By Our Failure to Impeach Bush

12:00 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Remarks at the Rutherford Institute, June 16, 2010
Video of these remarks and the following Q&A posted at

I want to save most of the time we have for your questions, so I’ll be brief and I’ll start with a couple of questions for you. And then I want you to think of questions for me, because otherwise I’ll just go on and on about what I want to talk about.

Who can tell me who said this and where they said it?
"I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation." — President Barack Obama, asserting the illegal and unconstitutional power to make war, in a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway.

What about this one — who and where?
"There may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. . . . As I said, I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. . . . We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified." — President Barack Obama standing in front of the U.S. Constitution in the National Archives, a Constitution that reads "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended."

OK. One more. Who said this and where and when?
"The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers. The blessing is that He is with us always." –President Barack Obama in the Oval Office last night explaining how he’ll stop the explosion that is pumping millions of gallons of oil into the ocean every day, and defend the separation of church and state.

Something is missing, I think, from the recent debate over whether Nancy Pelosi blames George W. Bush too much. Pelosi chose not to impeach Bush. Had she pursued impeachment, Bush would have been a better president as long as he remained in office, and his successor — whether Barack Obama or someone else — would have been far less dangerous than Obama is right now.

That Bush and Dick Cheney had reshaped the powers of the presidency was not exactly a secret. In a December 31, 2007, editorial, the New York Times faulted Bush and Cheney for kidnapping innocent people, denying justice to prisoners, torturing, murdering, circumventing US and international law, spying in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and basing their actions on "imperial fantasies." If the list of crimes had been smaller, such as robbing a liquor store and killing the clerk, the editorialists would have demanded prosecution. In this case, on the contrary, they demanded the same thing that Pelosi demanded of us, that we sit back and hope the next president would be better. But the next president was destined to enter office with the power to commit all the crimes listed above and many more, including the larger crimes of aggressive war to which the New York Times contributed so crucially.

We prosecute liquor store robbers when we can catch them, and we sometimes win convictions. Other times, the robbers get away. But we are certain that the effort, while far from perfect, deters some people from robbing liquor stores. Had Pelosi attempted to impeach George W. Bush and failed, President Obama, or whoever was president now, would have had to operate under that deterrent. And it is highly unlikely that Pelosi would have failed to win a majority in the House for impeachment, and it is unlikely that two-thirds of the Senate would not have convicted. It is also unlikely that a serious move toward impeachment and trial would not have resulted in criminal prosecution. I say this for several reasons.

1-Even with both political parties adamantly opposed to impeachment, a majority of Americans favored it. Imagine what the support would have been had impeachment hearings been held.

2-Pelosi has great powers of persuasion, including campaign dollars, media influence, positions on committees, and votes on bills and earmarks. She has won many tough fights, just usually fighting for horrible things.

3-The evidence of many of the crimes and abuses of power was and is overwhelming, and included public confessions. And impeachment and senate conviction does not even require allegation, much less proof, of a statutory crime.

4-During 2007 and 2008 when congressional committees subpoenaed witnesses to speak about executive branch abuses, those witnesses usually refused to appear. Pelosi could have begun using the Capitol Police to compel compliance, or simply allowed an impeachment committee to subpoena the White House. The first solution would have resulted in tremendous public awareness of outrageous criminal behavior. The second would have resulted in the same or in near certain impeachment, because refusal to comply with an impeachment hearing is an impeachable offense and is what President Richard Nixon was about to be impeached for when he resigned.

5-If the issue of impeachment had been raised, members of both parties would have had to support impeachment, conviction, and criminal prosecution if they wanted to be reelected. The evidence for this includes the polling already mentioned and several other indicators. Even with impeachment stripped out of our Constitution and thrown on the fire, the number one demand of Obama’s supporters on his campaign website was that he keep his promise to filibuster a bill giving immunity to corporations that illegally spied for Bush. The number one demand on Obama’s transition website was that he open a criminal investigation into Bush. Many Democratic-loyal organizations like the ACLU struggled with their members in order to refuse to support impeachment but began clamoring for prosecution as soon as Bush had done a full eight years’ worth of damage. Imagine what the push for prosecution would have been had impeachment happened. When Congressman Alan Grayson in 2009 sent around an Email complaining that Cheney was not behind bars yet, it helped Grayson raise a half million dollars in a day. President Ford hurt his election prospects by pardoning Nixon.

6-Whether Cheney was impeached first or second, whoever served for whatever period in the oval office (and no, it would not have been Pelosi herself) would have been a more law-abiding president, and reforms coming out of this ordeal would quite likely have included barring vice presidents from executive work and restricting them, in the words of Sarah Palin, to being in charge of the Senate.

Now, some people knew about many of Bush’s crimes and abuses but didn’t think of them as expansions of power. Rather, they were one-time aberrations, and whether they were punished or rewarded, the office of the presidency would not be altered. The next president would refrain from the same sort of behavior because he or she wouldn’t be the sadistic moron that Bush was. This was a pleasant fantasy and had a certain ring of truth to it. But how presidents behave is not determined purely by their genes and their childhoods. Bush is off at his new think tank urging them not to think too much and telling us we should shift to renewable energy. Had Congress resisted Bush the way it did Nixon, Obama could have easily been a better president than Jimmy Carter. As it is, Obama is exercising more abusive power than any other president in US history, Bush included. Which is not to say that Obama has added more new powers to the presidential tool box than Bush did, but that he has cemented in place those precariously claimed by Bush and added some new ones besides. In addition to political inertia, the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that powers used by multiple presidents become legal powers, making the Bush-Obama presidential powers more difficult to undo than they were as Bush powers alone.

We currently suffer the rule of a president who has claimed greater war powers than his predecessor, who asserted the power of aggressive war in a peace prize acceptance speech, who threw out habeas corpus standing in front of the US Constitution in the National Archives, who has claimed the powers to spy without warrant, imprison without charge, torture, murder, assassinate, occupy, and operate in unprecedented secrecy, and we think we’ve improved things because this president is from the other political party and speaks in complete sentences.

In my book "Daybreak" I looked at various powers Bush and Cheney had piled up to pass along to their successors. And this was very much Cheney’s intention, had been his mission for decades, and you’ll notice that people like John Yoo now speak very highly of Obama’s willingness to abuse the same powers. The first thing I looked at was the power to make laws. Of course, it’s been increasingly well-established since Jefferson’s presidency that presidents tell Congress what laws to make. But Bush produced laws like the PATRIOT Act and convinced Congress to pass them without, in the case of most members, reading them. Obama has produced bills too lengthy for anyone to read, such as his healthcare bill, produced through secret presidential negotiations with the corporations affected and ongoing direction to congressional committees. No bill is brought to the floor without Obama’s approval. If Obama slows down the withdrawal of troops from Iraq or sends more to Afghanistan, Congress simply picks up the tab. If Pelosi wants to crack down on reckless oil drilling, she doesn’t legislate, she asks the president to please do something But none of this is entirely new.

Nor is it entirely new for presidents to simply make laws with so-called executive orders, or for presidents to ignore laws, or for presidents to pardon criminals. But Bush developed these approaches beyond those of his predecessors. And, instead of pardoning criminals, he granted immunity to unnamed individuals and corporations for unnamed crimes, a much more dangerous approach. Obama has adopted all of these powers as his own, and has gone to great lengths arguing in court to protect the immunity of Bush, his subordinates, and his corporate coconspirators. In fact, Obama has made claims of secrecy and immunity to protect Bush and Cheney that Bush and Cheney never dreamed of, arguing that entire categories of court cases, not just particular pieces of evidence, must be dismissed on the president’s say-so.

Another Bush innovation in law-making was his particular use of the Office of Legal Counsel memo, often a secret memo, used to blatantly reverse existing law. Lawyers working for Bush legalized aggressive war, warrantless spying, torture, and many other crimes by drafting secret memos declaring that things appearing to be illegal are actually legal. And Bush famously created a whole new use for something called a signing statement. He would sign a bill into law and then alter portions of it with a written statement. Obama swore he would not do such things, but now he has. For his first half year in office President Obama issued signing statements just like Bush’s. Then he adopted a more dangerous policy. Rather than issue signing statements, which Republicans in Congress had suddenly discovered they objected to, Obama determined that he could silently refuse to comply with laws and rely on previous signing statements to make his case for him. If no previous statement fit the bill, he would ask the OLC for a memo. How many secret memos the OLC has drafted in the past year and a half we have no way of knowing. And what has Obama done with Bush’s signing statements? He’s announced that he has the power to, secretly or otherwise, overturn any one of them as he sees fit, a power Obama’s successor will have with regard to signing statements by Obama or Bush.

Second, I looked at the power of war. Our Constitution wisely placed it in Congress. It is now in the White House and growing ever stronger. President Obama has demanded and received a larger military budget than Bush ever had, plus a larger war budget on top of that, not to mention the secret budget for some of the spy agencies that engage in war. President Obama continues to insist on funding the wars off the books with so-called emergency supplementals. He’s put bases into more nations. He’s put more troops in the field. He’s expanded the use of mercenaries and contractors. He’s dramatically expanded the illegal use of drones to bomb Pakistan and other nations, resulting — among other forms of blowback — in a man trying to set off a bomb in Times Square, a man whose father’s job used to be guarding nuclear weapons. Obama’s Pentagon is pushing hard to use drones in U.S. skies as well. Meanwhile, Obama has — in another badder than Bush innovation — formally authorized secret military action in dozens of nations. He’s formally done away with habeas corpus and established the power to imprison people at Bagram and other sites completely outside any legal process. He’s kept our death camp at Guantanamo open. President Obama has continued to assert the power to torture, and torture has continued. He’s also continued to assert the power to kidnap or "rendition" people and send them to nations that torture. But, most disturbingly, Obama has largely replaced torture with murder. People we would have sought to capture two years ago, we now seek to murder instead. And Obama has claimed the power to assassinate anyone, including American citizens. And, needless to say, the warrantless spying programs and other violations of civil liberties roll on unquestioned, and Miranda rights may be at risk now too. And one reason to think things may be even worse than we know is that Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any of his predecessors.

Many other powers are discussed in my book, and there’s a similar story to tell. But the bulk of the book deals with what we can do about it. Needless to say, nobody’s heart is broken when Congress loses powers. Many powers claimed by Washington would be better used by the states or localities or the people. And there is much that we can do apart from directly influencing our government, including nonviolently resisting bad policies, educating each other, boycotting corporations that need reform, declining to pay our war taxes, chasing recruiters out of schools, etc., etc. And in many ways, at this point, we can only undo the damage by amending the Constitution. Until we clean up the money and the media and the parties, reform the courts and the White House and the Congress, and establish truly representative government we’re fighting a steep uphill battle. But it’s one that we have to pursue and have to succeed in. The stakes are too high to walk away.

President Obama has a new nuclear policy. We will not use nuclear weapons to strike any non-nuclear nation except Iran. For decades, our government has had a suicidal environmental policy of subsidizing oil and coal and nuclear power. Our economy has been eaten out from the inside by a massive transfer of wealth upward and into the industry that least benefits any other, namely war. As weapons proliferate, climate change advances, and more and more people are pushed into terrorism by our overseas empire, we don’t have the option of leaving our government alone. Nor is Obama’s policy of "looking forward" and enforcing laws only against relatively petty criminals sustainable.

Of course, we’re in a trickier place now. Impeachment is only possible with a Republican Congress and a Democratic President and only for offenses that make a mockery of the impeachment process and incline the public against it. Prosecution of Bush’s subordinates or the former president would be hard to achieve without addressing crimes of which the current president is guilty too. And among the current president’s new powers is the power to publicly tell the Justice Department when not to enforce laws. Italy has done us the favor of convicting two dozen CIA agents for kidnapping a man in Milano and sending him off to be tortured. Spain has pursued prosecutions. The International Criminal Court could theoretically become truly international. This week it added wars of aggression to the list of crimes it can prosecute, despite US opposition. Civil suits against people like John Yoo and Donald Rumsfeld may someday win damages for the victims of crimes, despite the criminals never being prosecuted. But what can Congress do? No matter how many times it redundantly bans torture, it can’t prosecute torturers.

Well, I can think of two obvious things Congress could do, and impossible as it seems to influence a member of the US House of Representatives, it is far far easier than influencing a senator or a president. The first thing that Congress could do is completely off everyone’s radar screen and therefore very difficult, short of building a decent communications system. That is, Congress could reclaim the powers of impeachment and subpoena by subpoenaing and impeaching Jay Bybee. With the exception of Joe Lieberman, who is not a Democrat, nobody in Congress has subpoenaed anyone in a year and a half. Jay Bybee wrote the worst of the secret memos and is now a judge who should be impeached and removed from office. And if he were, he would bring some other people down with him.

The other thing Congress can do is alive in public discussion and even in the corporate media. Congress can halt the worst crimes, the ones that make the others possible, by ceasing to fund them. The House is about to vote on $33.5 billion to escalate the war in Afghanistan. This war is illegal, immoral, against the public will, economically catastrophic, counterproductive on its own terms, and a cynically motivated intentional failure. And Congressman Tom Perriello, who has thus far voted for every war dollar he could get his hands on, has refused to say whether he will vote for this escalation funding or not.

This war is not in self-defense and was not authorized by the UN Security Council. Under the UN Charter and Article VI of our Constitution it is not legal. Most of the people we kill with drones are civilians, but we kill even more civilians in night raids, and General McChrystal says that every single person killed at checkpoints has been no threat at all. And what do we mean by civilians exactly? If our nation were occupied would we consider it legal to kill those who fight back but illegal to kill those who don’t? Polls show a majority of Americans oppose continuing the war, and here Congress is proposing to escalate it — in the name of spreading democracy of course.

The money we are spending to take away lives could be spent to save even more lives. We could save millions from starvation and disease around the world or in Afghanistan or our own country. We could have 20 green energy jobs paying $50,000 per year for every soldier sent to Afghanistan: a job for that former soldier and 19 more, and reduced demand for the oil and gas and pipelines and bases. We’re spending as much as $400 per gallon to bring gas into Afghanistan where the US military used 27 million gallons of the stuff in April. We’re spending hundreds of millions to bribe nations to be part of what we pretend is a coalition effort. We’ve spent $277 billion on making war on Afghanistan, and using Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz’ analysis of Iraq we need to multiply that by four or five to get a realistic cost including debt interest, veterans care, energy prices, and lost opportunities. Public investment in most other industries or in tax cuts produces more jobs than investment in the military. In fact, military spending is economically, as well as morally, the worst thing Congress can do.

During the global war of terror we have seen a global increase in terrorism. The supposed tools for fighting terrorism may fight it, but their net impact is almost certainly to increase it. A RAND Corporation study released this year looked at 89 of what it called insurgencies. With a weak government, like that of Afghanistan, the insurgency won 90% of the time. Our military experts including the retired 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps say we would need hundreds of thousands of troops to do what we’re attempting. The National Security Advisor says more US troops could just be "swallowed up."

Last summer a majority of the Democrats in the House voted for a so-called exit-strategy. A simple truth has been lost. You do not exit a war by escalating it. We did not exit Iraq by escalating it. We have not exited at all, and the escalation does not explain the decrease in violence. And if it did, we would still need those hundreds of thousands of troops to do it in Afghanistan. We have 198,000 troops and mercenaries in Iraq. And violence is down there because so many people are dead and displaced, because a complete withdrawal date has been announced, and primarily because the troops have pulled back from urban areas. When they stopped patrolling for violence, the violence went down, because the violence was being driven by the occupation.

Violence will go down in Afghanistan too if the US troops pull back. And perhaps that is the cynical plan, to pull back and reduce (but not end) the occupation after a pointless battle fought for U.S. political purposes or to please the military industrial congressional complex. We know that last year President Obama sent 21,000 more troops and 5,000 more mercenaries to Afghanistan, and that violence increased as a result. What’s staggering is that the president said he was sending 17,000 troops first and would then figure out a plan for Afghanistan later. Sending the troops was an end in itself. We know that a pipeline and major military bases are part of the desired plan, but so is winning elections back home, which is where war opposition comes in.

No matter how awful Afghanistan is when the U.S. military leaves, it can never become a decent place to live during a foreign occupation. And the post-occupation Afghanistan is likely to be worse the longer the occupation has lasted. That’s the opinion of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Our chief obligation is to cease committing the crime of aggression and get out of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq, and stop giving weapons to Israel and Egypt. But there is no reason our troops could not employ their bravery to clean up cluster bombs before they leave. There is no reason we cannot fund non-drug agriculture as our ambassador to Afghanistan advises us to do instead of escalating the war. recommends spending $5 billion for jobs through the National Solidarity Program, which is run by local elected leaders.

In one view, Congress can only influence the president. So a toothless request to end the war is just as good as voting No on the funding. But in another view, not only do presidents respond better to real threats, but Congress needs to build a caucus large enough to vote down war funding whether or not the president approves. Doing so restores the power of war to where our Constitution so wisely put it and prevents future wars while ending a current one. So I want to see members of Congress commit to voting No on $33.5 billion, no matter what good things are packaged into the same bill.

Today at noon we’re going to take as many people as possible into Congressman Perriello’s office at 313 2nd Street SE in Charlottesville to ask his staff there when the congressman will stop pouring so much of our money into horrific and stupid wars. If you share that concern, I hope you will be there. We have to meet on the sidewalk by the street, and then walk across the parking lot without stopping, and enter the office. Protests are not allowed in the parking lot. So try to be there at noon, so we can all go in together. Or if you get there late, just join us in the office at 313 2nd Street SE.

Congressman Perriello used to always tell me he was deferring to the president, but I think he caught on that I didn’t appreciate that line. He still does, however, defer to the president and to the Democratic Party. Last summer, Perriello wanted to vote against another war bill that had been combined with a bailout for Eastern European banks. It was the bailout that Perriello opposed. I opposed both items. However, the Democrats needed his vote for passage, and they got it. I don’t know what they said to him, but they were reported to have told freshmen they would be "dead to us." Perriello, you may recall, got a million dollars from the Democratic Party in DC for his last campaign. He couldn’t afford to be dead to them. And just after he voted for the bill, strange things happened. The Democrats bought radio ads promoting Perriello. White House environmental bigshots, including Van Jones, came to Charlottesville to do a press event with Perriello. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer came to Charlottesville to do a press event with Perriello. So I was probably the only one to find such a thing ominous, but when the Secretary of Agriculture announce a telephone press conference with Perriello last week, I didn’t like the sound of it.

If you think representatives should represent people and explain to people what decisions they are making, not fall in line behind presidents or party leaders, I hope you’ll join us in Congressman Perriello’s office at noon today. And I hope you’ll also contact Charlottesville City Council Member David Brown who has refused to support a resolution opposing more war funding because he thinks we should defer to the wisdom of Congressman Perriello and not dare to let him know what we think.

So, Perriello defers to the man whose constitutional job is executing the will of Congress, and Brown defers to Perriello. This is, of course, a reversal of representative government.

Now I’d like to hear what you think and take any questions you’ve got. Thank you for inviting me here.


David Swanson is the author of the new book "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: