IS IMPEACHMENT ENOUGH OR WILL WAR CRIMES TRIBUNALS BE NECESSARY?
When I called my congresswoman's office a few days ago one of her staffers was a pleasure to talk to. He corrected me when I mentioned she had one of the most progressive voting records in the entire Congress. "It's is the #1 most progressive," he claimed. (He must be using a different measuring system that I use; Diane Watson is always way up near the top but never as near as Raul Grijalva (AZ), Barbara Lee (CA), Janice Schakowsky (IL), Linda Sanchez (CA), Hilda Solis (CA), Tammy Baldwin (WI)-- or half a dozen freshmen with incredible voting records, like Keith Ellison (MN), Mazie Hirono (HI), Yvette Clarke (NY), Hank Johnson (GA), John Sarbanes (MD), Peter Welch (VT), Betty Sutton (OH) and Paul Hodes (NH). The member representing my hometown, Diane Watson, ranks as the #50 most progressive member of the House, right between Blue America freshmen John Hall (NY) and Mike Arcuri (NY). She scores a 92.68 in the ProgressivePunch scale. I don't remember ever having a beef with any of her votes. She's no Jerry Nadler or Carol Shea-Porter, but she can pretty much always be counted on to do the right thing. So I figured maybe she'd be one of the 3 co-sponsored needed to get action on H.R. 333, the bill to start impeachment proceedings against Cheney.
She was stuck on a plane from L.A. back to DC but her legislative assistant told me to forget it and parroted the Nancy Pelosi line-- same exact words I've heard from a dozen Democratic congressmembers about why impeachment is off the table. It's political calculus and it's not about what's right for America; it's about what's right for their political party. That's wrong-- even if you equate what's right for America with what's right for your party. After all, isn't that (that equation) why a growing number of people-- from across the political spectrum-- want to see Bush, Cheney and the rest of the big players of the Regime stand trial?
This morning two former Reagan aides, P.X. Kelley and Robert F. Turner, co-authored an OpEd in the Washington Post that seems to accuse Bush and his cronies of war crimes. Reagan appointed Kelley commandant of the Marine Corps in 1983. Turner, one of the founders of the University of Virginia's Center for National Security Law and a former chair of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Law and National Security, was a Reagan White House attorney who "vigorously defended the constitutionality of warrantless National Security Agency wiretaps, presidential signing statements and many other controversial aspects of the war on terrorism."
Looking at their public service records one could not conclude anything but that these two are very conservative, very partisan Republicans who have generally bought into the whole authoritarian line. But even they have to draw the line when Bush jeopardizes national security and national honor and egregiously disregards the rule of law on which our entire society is based.
we cannot in good conscience defend a decision that we believe has compromised our national honor and that may well promote the commission of war crimes by Americans and place at risk the welfare of captured American military forces for generations to come.
The Supreme Court held in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld last summer that all detainees captured in the war on terrorism are protected by Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which prescribes minimum standards of treatment for all persons who are no longer taking an active part in an armed conflict not of an international character. It provides that "in all circumstances" detainees are to be "treated humanely."
This is not just about avoiding "torture." The article expressly prohibits "at any time and in any place whatsoever" any acts of "violence to life and person" or "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."
Last week the Regime issued an executive order weaseling out of their obligations by reinterpreting it to suit their needs, something one would expect from a fascist dictator. Basically, the stand of the Bush Regime is now that "as long as the intent of the abuse is to gather intelligence or to prevent future attacks, and the abuse is not 'done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual'-- even if that is an inevitable consequence-- the president has given the CIA carte blanche to engage in 'willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse.'"
It is firmly established in international law that treaties are to be interpreted in "good faith" in accordance with the ordinary meaning of their words and in light of their purpose. It is clear to us that the language in the executive order cannot even arguably be reconciled with America's clear duty under Common Article 3 to treat all detainees humanely and to avoid any acts of violence against their person.
Bush and Cheney want to "compromise our honor" (as well as wreck our constitutional government and disregard crucial treaties that have helped civilization evolve-- although, of course, Bush doesn't believe in evolution).
To date in the war on terrorism, including the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and all U.S. military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, America's losses total about 2 percent of the forces we lost in World War II and less than 7 percent of those killed in Vietnam. Yet we did not find it necessary to compromise our honor or abandon our commitment to the rule of law to defeat Nazi Germany or imperial Japan, or to resist communist aggression in Indochina. On the contrary, in Vietnam-- where we both proudly served twice-- America voluntarily extended the protections of the full Geneva Convention on prisoners of war to Viet Cong guerrillas who, like al-Qaeda, did not even arguably qualify for such protections.
The Geneva Conventions provide important protections to our own military forces when we send them into harm's way. Our troops deserve those protections, and we betray their interests when we gratuitously "interpret" key provisions of the conventions in a manner likely to undermine their effectiveness. Policymakers should also keep in mind that violations of Common Article 3 are "war crimes" for which everyone involved-- potentially up to and including the president of the United States-- may be tried in any of the other 193 countries that are parties to the conventions.
Diane Watson, Nancy Pelosi and the scores of congressmembers who have not signed on to H.R. 333 are wrong. Christy Harden Smith, on the other hand, is correct. So are Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Jim Moran (D-VA), Bob Filner (D-CA), and Sam Farr (D-CA). I don't know about you, but I've suspended donating money to any House incumbent who has not signed on to H.R. 333. On our Blue America page that means Tom Allen, Steve Cohen, John Hall, Jerry McNerney, Patrick Murphy, Jerry Nadler, Carol Shea-Porter and Hilda Solis, among the best members of Congress in my lifetime-- but wrong on one of the most important issues of any of our lifetimes.
UPDATE: WHAT ABOUT THE WAR CRIMES TRIAL?
Did I leave this out? "Policymakers should also keep in mind that violations of Common Article 3 are 'war crimes' for which everyone involved-- potentially up to and including the president of the United States-- may be tried in any of the other 193 countries that are parties to the conventions." That includes Cheney.