By David Swanson
When citizens and voters go to the town meeting and primaries in Brattleboro, Vermont, on Tuesday, there will be a question on the back of all ballots, and a circle to mark Yes and one to mark No:
“Shall the Selectboard instruct the Town Attorney to draft indictments against President Bush and Vice President Cheney for crimes against our Constitution and publish said indictments for consideration by other authorities, and shall it be the law of the Town of Brattleboro that the Brattleboro police, pursuant to the above mentioned indictments, arrest and detain George Bush and Richard Cheney in Brattleboro if they are not duly impeached, and prosecuted or extradite them to other authorities that may reasonably contend to prosecute them?”
A public forum was held Sunday in Brattleboro to discuss the upcoming vote. Kurt Daims, the Brattleboro citizen who drafted the measure, was there, along with leading New England activists for peace and justice, including U.S. Senate candidate from Maine Laurie Dobson who is seeking indictments of Bush and Cheney in Maine as well.
If this thing passes on Tuesday I know a lot of cops around the country who are going to be jealous of the Brattleboro police force. I’m thinking of all the police officers I’ve seen arrest activists in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, but accept impeachment t-shirts from them and hide them under their hats. Here is an opportunity for law-abiding and law-upholding working men and women to arrest the biggest criminals of our age, and the two men most responsible for the human and financial costs we and others have suffered these past seven years. Who wouldn’t want to be in on this?
Now, I know what you’re thinking. If we just wait one more year, only a couple of more hundred thousand Iraqis and some hundreds of US troops will die, we’ll only launch at most one more foreign war beyond the ones we’re running now, our actions might not provoke an attack in this country, we’ll still have several years left in which we can try to reverse global warming if we hurry, the millions of American families about to lose their homes to foreclosures will only have one winter to brave and it may be a warm one, and then a completely unreliable and probably fraudulent election will give us in 2009 a new president who – if we’re lucky – won’t be that crazy old senator who wants to stay in Iraq for 10,000 more years, and if we’re really lucky future presidents will go ahead and obey laws even though they’re not required to anymore . . . so what are we getting all excited about? Right? Admit it, that’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?
How could you not be when THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN HISTORY is forecast as imminent every day for two straight years every four years? Seriously, raise your hand if you do not know which presidential candidates are married, how many kids they each have, what their religions are, or if you could not rank them by age, height, or hair color.
Do you know what the most important election in history was? It was the one they decided not to hold between King George of England and his challenger. If they had held that election, and the American colonists had devoted all of their energies for two straight years to reading pamphlets about who had the whiter wig, we never would have had a Declaration of Independence, and we never would have had a democracy.
Oh, well, but that was different. Those colonists weren’t fat and happy like we are, and that King George had committed crimes.
Had he? I think legally, it’s the other way around. As Vermont impeachment activist Dan DeWalt has pointed out, it was the Declaration of Independence that had no force of law. The current president and vice president, on the other hand, live and work in a society of laws under a Constitution, and their violations of the law and of the Constitution are firmly established.
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 U.S. and international laws, spying in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and basing their actions on “imperial fantasies.”
Bush and Cheney’s lies about Iraqi ties to al Qaeda are on videotape and in writing, and they continue to make them to this day. Their claims about Iraqi weapons have been shown in every detail to have been, not mistakes, but lies. Their threats to and lies about Iran are on videotape. Bush being warned about Katrina and claiming he was not are on videotape. Bush lying about illegal spying and later confessing to it are on videotape.
Torture, openly advocated for by Bush and Cheney and their staffs, is documented by victims, witnesses, and public photographs. Torture was always illegal and has been repeatedly re-criminalized under Bush and Cheney. Bush has reversed those and other laws with signing statements. Those statements are posted on the White House website, and a GAO report found that with a significant percentage of Bush’s signing statements in which he announces his right to break laws, he has in fact proceeded to break those laws.
Bush and Cheney have exposed an undercover agent as punishment of a whistleblower. They’ve commuted the sentence of a top assistant who obstructed an investigation that included themselves. They’ve hired and fired public prosecutors based on their willingness to abuse the law in support of a political party.
Bush and Cheney have stripped the people of this country of protections under Amendments 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, not to mention 13 and 15. We now arrive at the question of whether there is any life left in Amendments 9 and 10. The Ninth Amendment reads:
“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
The Tenth Amendment reads:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
If those people referred to in that old document still exist anywhere, it is in Brattleboro, Vermont. And nowhere does the Constitution deny the people of Brattleboro the power to arrest, detain, or try in a fair trial individuals whom they have probable cause to believe guilty of mass murder.
Imagine if one of the esteemed Selectmen in Brattleboro were discovered to be accepting bribes, handing out public dollars to his friends, and torturing children in the basement. Would an appropriate response be “How awful, but you know he’s retiring in another year and those children are used to being tortured by now anyway?” That response is not even imaginable.
But when the crime becomes larger and less intimate, when we begin discussing hundreds of thousands of murders and countless cases of torture carried out at a distance by loyal underlings, all of a sudden our conviction that accountability is called for becomes less absolute. Why, though, should the need for accountability shrink as the crime grows? This makes no sense to me and would have made none to the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Now, that Constitution provides very prominently and discusses in six places a remedy for presidents and vice presidents who abuse it. In such cases, the Congress can impeach, try, remove from office, and bar from ever holding office again. But Article I, Section 3 also says:
“the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and punishment, according to Law.”
In other words, whether a president or vice president or other civil officer of the United States is impeached and convicted in the U.S. Senate or not, he or she is subject before, during, or following that process to exactly what Brattleboro may propose to do on Tuesday.
And I would suggest that the failure of Congress to even consider impeachment gives Brattleboro and every other town in this country something more than the right to take justice into their own hands. We have a responsibility to make use of our democracy in those places where it still resides, where money and military and media have not killed it off. We have a duty, not just a right, to attempt at this late hour to make this again a nation ruled not by men but by laws.
The United States Department of Justice could take up this matter at the national level, it’s true. It’s also true that a chicken can squawk before a fox comes in the door. It’s true that Blackwater can investigate itself. It’s true that the New York Times comes with a built-in critic of its own mistakes. The trouble is that the Department of Justice is now an arm of the Republican Party. The most spineless Congress in the history of the country has asked that Justice Department to hold noncompliant witnesses in contempt, and it has refused.
Congress has a tool called inherent contempt in which the Capitol Police arrest and hold witnesses on Capitol Hill, but our invertebrate representatives are afraid to use that even on former staffers. They are not about to use it on Bush and Cheney.
We are in completely uncharted waters in Washington. We have not only unprecedented spinelessness from the first branch of our government, but we have previously unimagined offenses by the second branch, offenses that can best be called, in the words of the Brattleboro initiative, crimes against the Constitution.
Congress can now pass horrendous bills that become law or good bills that get vetoed. Or it can pass mixed bills in which the bad parts become law, but anything Bush doesn’t like is undone with a signing statement. Yes, previous presidents wrote signing statements, but not in this volume and not in this way, not to announce the intention to violate laws and proceed to violate them. Congress has held hearings on this and countless other abuses. Some of these hearings lay out all the facts, but then nothing is done because the only thing Congress could do would be to impeach, and that would require integrity. At other hearings, witnesses don’t show up, or show up having forgotten everything prior to breakfast that day. And Congress thanks them for coming, turns the other cheek, and begs to be slapped. Sometimes an abused spouse needs an intervention from a friend, and Congress right now has no better friend than the people of Brattleboro, Vermont.
Who would dare tell Brattleboro it is not its place to act? In recent times, we have seen nations around the world indict foreign criminals for crimes committed elsewhere. The crimes of Bush and Cheney directly impact the people of Brattleboro. The people of Brattleboro have officially paid some $11 million so far to occupy Iraq, or six times that if you consider the costs calculated by nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz. Vermont and Brattleboro have lost lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and had lives devastated. Vermont’s national guard has been sent to guard somebody else’s nation. You have the right to bear arms, but they have the right to put you on a plane and ship you to wherever the most oil is.
The abuse inflicted on our nation by the current president and vice president makes a lot of people angry. Responding with violence would be foolish and counterproductive. Responding with an election might be cathartic, but would not solve the problem. The only response that can work is one that calls the crimes what they are and upholds the rule of law. If we had really gotten this right under Nixon or Reagan or Clinton, we might have prevented some of the same people involved back then from committing new offenses.
More importantly, only a serious law-enforcement response will set a precedent for future administrations. Raise your hand if you are a Republican who wants Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama to have the power to spy without warrants, detain without charges, torture, murder, and rewrite any law passed by Congress.
And only a proper criminal trial can possibly lead to the restorative justice the occasion demands, to an open confession and apology for the crimes committed, and to a plan for those war profiteering individuals and corporations closest to the president and vice president, and including the vice president, to make restitution to the people of this country and the people of Iraq.
This must be about the law, but not merely the law. We need a restoration of our culture. Far too often around this nation we are seeing local police officers engage in brutality that seems to imitate the actions of those taking their orders from the White House and abusing captives in foreign lands. Let’s begin to bring a new world out of this toxic one through the noble and honest actions of local police officers, those employed by Brattleboro.
Their first job can be assisting with poll watching, exit polling, and observation of a hand-count of Tuesday’s ballots. Their next job can be making sure that Bush and Cheney get something they’ve denied so many other people: a fair trial.