Monday, October 15, 2007

Impeachment: Is there any other Way to Restore the Rule of Law in our Nation?

by Dale Tavris

There is no doubt that if we lived in a police state it would be easier to catch terrorists… If we lived in a country where people could be held in jail indefinitely based on what they write or think, or based on mere suspicion… the government would probably arrest more terrorists or would-be terrorists… But that wouldn’t be a country in which we would want to live, and it wouldn’t be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die. In short, that country wouldn’t be America
– Senator Russ Feingold, the only U.S. Senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act, in his dissent against that Act, October 11, 2001.

There are two polar opposite types of nations in which people can aspire to live. One type of nation is a democracy, in which the people directly or indirectly (through elected representatives) choose the laws under which they live, and where those laws are supreme. In such a nation the rule of law prevails, and it applies not only to ordinary citizens but to ALL citizens, including the elected representatives of the people.

The opposite type of nation is one where a king, tyrant, dictator, or whatever you want to call him, rules supreme. In that type of nation there is no rule of law in the sense that the rule of law prevails in a democracy. The law is whatever the dictator says it is.

Of course there are also many nations that fall somewhere in between these two opposite extremes. And nations can and have changed from one to the other.

Changing from dictatorship to democracy and from democracy to dictatorship

In 1776 our Founding Fathers, who then lived under the dictatorship of Great Britain’s King George III, proclaimed a new nation, along with the right of peoples to overthrow their government when they found their government to be destructive of their unalienable rights. Of course, that was much easier said than done. In our case it took a bloody revolutionary war and 7 years to make the United States of America, proclaimed in 1776, into a reality. And then it took another bloody war, beginning almost eighty years later, to begin to extend those unalienable rights to people of another race.

To guard against future tyranny our Founding Fathers created a Constitution, which provided the foundation in law for preserving the unalienable rights that so many of them fought so hard for. Paramount among the constitutional mechanisms for guarding against future tyranny were provisions for removing from office elected or appointed government officials who abuse their delegated powers by becoming destructive of the rights of the citizens whom they are elected to represent. The great value of this provision was that it would enable future generations to remove incompetent, abusive, or tyrannical governments without having to resort to violence, as was required for the birth of our nation.

The Nazification of Germany in the 1930s provides an excellent example of how democracies can retrogress back into tyrannies. Milton Mayer, who studied the thinking of ordinary lower level Nazis during Hitler’s rise to power, explained in his book, “They Thought They Were Free – The Germans 1933-45”, the gradual process by which Germans gave up their freedom to Hitler:

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

A short summary of how the Bush/Cheney administration is destroying the rule of law in our nation

The Bush/Cheney administration has given a clear message to the citizens of our nation that, as far as they’re concerned, neither the Constitution of the United States nor the laws of the United States in general pose any limits to their actions. The following is a brief summary of evidence for this:

By appending “signing statements” to more than 800 laws enacted by Congress – more signing statements than all 42 previous presidents combined have used, George Bush has asserted his intentions be bound neither by the laws of the country he was chosen to serve nor by the Separation of Powers provided in our Constitution

By confining protesters to so-called “first amendment zones”; by tying up our airways, using tax dollars, with government propagandists pretending to be journalists; and by claiming the right to imprison journalists who expose administration crimes to the public, George Bush has repeatedly violated our First Amendment rights to free speech.

George Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program has deprived hundreds of thousands of Americans to their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

George Bush has repeated violated our Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to due process of law, as detailed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in “Articles of Impeachment against George W. Bush”, by:

violating the constitutional and international rights of citizens and non-citizens by arbitrarily detaining them indefinitely inside and outside of the United States, without due process, without charges, and with limited – if any – access to counsel or courts….

Also detailed in the same document, George Bush has violated our Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and inhuman punishment by:

allowing his administration to condone torture, failing to investigate and prosecute high-level officials responsible for torture, and officially refusing to accept the binding nature of a statutory ban on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment….

By using his Justice Department to disenfranchise tens of thousands (or much more) voters who are unlikely to vote for him, George Bush has violated our Fifteenth Amendment right to vote.

By repeatedly lying to Congress and the American people about his reasons for invading Iraq George Bush has, as described by the CCR:

subverted the Constitution, its guarantee of a republican form of government, and the constitutional separation of powers by undermining the rightful authority of Congress to declare war, oversee foreign affairs, and make appropriations. He did so by justifying the war with false and misleading statements and deceived the people of the United States as well as Congress…

And, by repeatedly refusing to comply with Congressional subpoenas George Bush and Dick Cheney have put themselves above the law and violated the Separation of Powers required by our Constitution.

The role of fear and excessive trust in causing democracies to revert to dictatorships

The archetypal reason that democracies sometimes revert to dictatorships is fear and the related excessive trust that fear or laziness sometimes engender. Fear is a powerful emotion, which often clouds the reasoning process. Fear can therefore cause people to look for a savior to save them from their fear. Of course, the voluntary handing over of dictatorial powers to a tyrant requires a certain degree of trust that the tyrant is benevolent and will do whatever is in the best interest of his people. If their fear is great enough, however, people may be prone to handing over their freedom to a tyrant even if the tyrant has not done much to warrant their trust.

I believe that the people of the United States have already handed over a great deal of their freedom. This process did not begin under the presidential administration of George Bush and Dick Cheney, but it certainly has accelerated under it. The following issues of trust are highly pertinent to this process:

Trust that the balance of power required by our Constitution is no longer necessary because our President will not abuse his powers.

Trust that the war making power delegated to Congress by our Constitution can and should reside in the hands of a single man because that man will use that power more wisely and effectively than will Congress.

Trust that monopolization of our national news media is ok, because whoever has control of the news that we receive will responsibly exercise the role of providing us with the information we need to be a functioning democracy.

Trust that huge campaign donations from wealthy contributors are ok, because our elected officials will not be influenced by those donations to favor their contributors above everyone else.

Trust that electronic voting machines that count our votes in secret are ok, because nobody would use such machines to steal an election.

Trust that our First Amendment right to criticize our government is not necessary, because our government does not warrant much criticism, and criticizing our government provides aid and comfort to our enemies.

Trust that giving our president the right to determine the guilt of suspected criminals and detain them indefinitely without trial is ok, because our president will make sure that only the guilty are detained and punished.

Trust that giving our government the right to torture people is ok, because the infromation gained from that torture is necessary to protect us against our enemies.

Trust that giving our president the right to spy on us without warrants is ok because our government will not abuse that right by spying on its domestic opponents.

The United States at a fork in the road to democracy or tyranny

It should be obvious to anyone with a working knowledge of history and current events that the United States of America is currently going down a road to tyranny. It is up to us the citizens of the United States, and our elected officials, to decide whether we will continue down that road or instead take a fork in the road leading back to democracy.

When dictatorial practices are initiated and meekly accepted in a democracy, a precedent is set. The longer the situation continues the more locked in the precedent becomes. When it continues long enough people come to accept it as normal. As with the Germans of the 1930s, or the Romans of antiquity, most Americans don’t even recognize that their democracy is slipping away from them, because they have gradually become accustomed to their situation and therefore accept it as “normal”.

The Bush administration has made a mockery of our Constitution and the rule of law in general in our country. Our Constitution provides a very good remedy for that, and that remedy is impeachment. Impeaching our President and Vice President, and removing them from office, would not only rid our country of the worst and most tyrannical presidential administration we’ve ever had; it would also go a long way towards restoring the rule of law in our country because it would give a clear message to all future elected leaders of our country that lawlessness is not acceptable to the American people.

As a long time believer in the Democratic Party, I, like millions of other Democrats in my country believe that it is very important that we elect a Democratic President and solidly Democratic Congress in 2008. My reasons for feeling that way are largely related to the fact that the Democratic Party is much more devoted to the rule of law in our country than is the Republican Party.

I also understand that the reluctance of my Party to pursue impeachment probably has a lot to do with their belief that doing so could jeopardize their chances to achieve control of the Presidency and Congress in 2008. I strongly disagree with my Party’s assessment on this issue, for reasons that I have discussed elsewhere.

But even if it was true that impeachment would jeopardize the chances of the Democratic Party to gain control of the Presidency and Congress in 2008, there is another very important consideration to which our Democratic representatives should give much thought: Electing a Democratic President and Congress in 2008 could prove to be a pyrrhic victory for our nation if we cannot re-establish the rule of law here. Failing to send a message that lawless presidents are not acceptable in our democracy, the precedent of Bush and Cheney’s administration will stand. I don’t know how we can send that message if no steps are taken to make our current dictators accountable for their many crimes. In that case it seems likely that it will only be a matter of time before our country descends fully into tyranny.