April 29, 2004
John Bonifaz, Author of "Warrior-King: The Case for Impeaching George W. Bush"
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
If youíre like BuzzFlash, youíve probably found yourself wondering how in the world could George W. Bush preemptively invade and occupy another country that was not an imminent threat to the United States, based on a heap of lies. Shouldnít such an action that has killed and injured thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians be an impeachable offense and treated as a high crime? Why isnít anybody talking about impeaching George W. Bush? Well help is on the way. John C. Bonifaz has written a new book, "Warrior-King: The Case for Impeaching George W. Bush," with a foreword by Rep. John Conyers Jr. that is a stinging indictment and a call for a grassroots movement to hold George W. Bush accountable for his illegal war in Iraq.
Mr. Bonifaz is also the founder and general counsel of the National Voting Rights Institute, a prominent legal center in the campaign finance reform field. Mr. Bonifaz is a 1999 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He is a 1992 graduate of Harvard Law School and a 1987 graduate of Brown University.
In February and March 2003, Mr. Bonifaz served as lead counsel for a coalition of US soldiers, parents of US soldiers, and Members of Congress (led by Representatives Conyers and Kucinich) in a federal lawsuit challenging the authority of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld to launch a war against Iraq absent a congressional declaration of war or equivalent action. His book, "Warrior-King," is accounting of that case and its meaning for the United States Constitution.
* * *
BuzzFlash: Your new book is titled, "Warrior-King: The Case for Impeaching George W. Bush." Let me just play devilís advocate for a second and ask you since Tom DeLay, the House Majority Leader, would never permit Articles of Impeachment to be drawn, why did you write this book when the outcome is fairly certain that George W. Bush will likely never be impeached?
John Bonifaz: I wrote the book to ensure that there would be a broader public debate about the illegality of this war. A President is not a king. He does not have the power to launch a first-strike invasion against another nation without a congressional declaration of war or equivalent congressional action. And this President has sent this nation into a war without any congressional authorization Ė a war that we now know is based on lies Ė and Bush ought to be scrutinized for the impeachable offenses that heís committed. So the question of whether or not the President has committed impeachable offense is, in fact, a legitimate question to raise, and must be raised from the grassroots.
BuzzFlash: Explain to our readers your analysis and the substance of the Congressional resolution in the fall of 2002 that gave the President, as I remember, the authority to pursue means to enforce inspections in Iraq, and how the President took that resolution as an authorization to invade Iraq.
John Bonifaz: Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia was quite eloquent about this point. The October 2002 Congressional resolution sought to unlawfully transfer to the President the power to declare war, a power held by the United States Congress. When the framers drafted the war powers clause of the United States Constitution, they did so to ensure that this country would not be like the European monarchs of the past -- the European monarchs of the past who could send their subjects off into battle on their own personal whim. In this country, the President would not have that kind of power. Only the people, through the United States Congress, would have the power to make that awesome decision of sending our soldiers into battle.
BuzzFlash: How do you respond to people who say, well, there wasnít a declaration of war with Korea or Vietnam. There wasnít a formal declaration of war in the first Iraq war. What is your response when people bring up those arguments and say, well, why should there have been a declaration of war in this case?
John Bonifaz: Well, first the question of whether in Iraq there was a declaration of war needs to expanded to determine whether there was even any equivalent Congressional action. This is not a magic words test. This is not the requirement that Congress must utter specific words in order for the nation to descend into war. But Congress must, in some way or another, authorize the President to go into war before the President may order military forces to engage in a war.
The President is the Commander in Chief. He has the power to determine how to prosecute a war, but it is not his power to determine whether to prosecute a war. Thatís solely a power of the U.S. Congress. So while it is true that thereís been erosion of the war powers clause since World War II, it is also true that in these other wars, there had been other instances in which Congress had expressed its view. Congress had appropriated money for some of these military operations. Congress had passed a mandatory draft.
At the start of this war against Iraq, there was nothing except the resolution in October 2002, which sought to cede the power of declaring war to the President. There had been no appropriations for this military invasion. There had been no military draft implemented. And so this President had no authority to send this nation into war. And we now know that he tried to gain that alleged authority based on lies and deception, which is a separate impeachable offense.
BuzzFlash: As a constitutional question, youíre saying that the Congress cannot shift its own constitutional responsibility to another branch of government, even if it desired to. In other words, the Senate could not shift the authority to the President to levy taxes or confirm members of the Cabinet. The House of Representatives couldnít shift the responsibility of drawing articles of impeachment to the Senate.
John Bonifaz: Absolutely. There are certain powers held by the United States Congress that are exclusively held by Congress. They are not shared with the President. Congress has the power to levy taxes, and only Congress does. Congress has the power to confirm appointments to the federal bench, and only Congress does. Congress cannot, all of a sudden, decide that itís going to abdicate its Constitutional responsibility and hand over to the President powers that the framers never intended the President to have.
Thereís a reason why we donít want the President to have the kind of awesome power of determining whether or not to send the nation into war, or whether or not to levy taxes on the American people. We have a different system than the European monarchies of the past. And no one individual should have the awesome power to determine whether to send American soldiers off into battle, and off possibly to their deaths. That is a decision solely to be made by the United States Congress, representing the people as a whole.
BuzzFlash: Letís imagine this scenario, that God forbid, Bush is reelected. But the House of Representatives miraculously goes back to Democratic control. What then? Can you still prosecute a case of impeachment against a President? Or would a reelection trump a Presidentís actions in the first term?
John Bonifaz: We, of course, have to remember that the Watergate break-in occurred in an election year, in 1972. And President Nixon was reelected. And it wasnít until 1973 that there was a series of impeachment proceedings leading ultimately to the Presidentís resignation in 1974. It would be very unfortunate for this country to go through a process by which it reelects a President without any consideration of whether heís committed impeachable offenses, only to then, assuming after that election, begin that process.
This process ought to begin now. There ought to be scrutiny engaged by the U.S. Congress today on whether the President has committed impeachable offenses. The Constitution lays out a specific process for addressing unlawful conduct committed by the President of the United States, and thatís called the impeachment process. These are high crimes that the President has committed, and he ought to be impeached for that reason. And this investigation ought to deal with the question of those high crimes. Elections are for questioning whether or not thereís popular support for the person in office or the person seeking office. But the impeachment process is for addressing the matter of high crimes. And itís critical now for this nation and for the integrity of the Constitution that we engage in that process.
BuzzFlash: You filed a lawsuit in February of 2003 on behalf of members of Congress and military families to stop the war because it was unconstitutional and illegal. And the courts barred deciding the case on the grounds that it raised political questions that they did not feel they had the right to decide. In your legal opinion, how were the courts wrong?
John Bonifaz: First itís important to recognize that the lead plaintiffs in this case were United States soldiers who were facing potential injury and death as a result of the Presidentís illegal actions. They had the courage to stand up and challenge this Presidentís authority to send them off into battle. Parents of U.S. soldiers and courageous members of Congress in fact, joined them. And the courts stood on the sidelines and refused to stop this Presidentís illegal march into war. And the courts used a barrier that should not have been placed in the plaintiffsí way to prevent any kind of judicial intervention. They argued that Congress and the President were not in conflict, and therefore, there was no ability for the judiciary to intervene. Only if Congress and the President, on a matter of war, refused or were in conflict, then the judiciary could intervene and deal with that conflict.
Of course, that means that Congress can collude with the President to violate the Constitution and have the President send the nation into an illegal war, and the courts would have no ability to act. In fact, the courts have a specific duty to act to protect and uphold the Constitution, even if the other two political branches are colluding together to violate it.
So here is a story of all three democratic institutions failing us Ė the executive branch, the United States Congress, and the federal judiciary. And the book is really sounding an alarm for our future, for the Constitution, and for the nation. We now have a new preemptive war doctrine articulated by this Bush Administration and if combined with whatís happened with the Iraq war, will impact the future of our country. We now have a precedent that any future Administration can effectively tell us that whenever they see a threat that perhaps the rest of the country doesnít see, the rest of the Congress doesnít see, the President alone can make the decision to wage war. These are powers held only by monarchs and tyrants, and it cannot be allowed that these powers should be held by the president of a democratic nation.
BuzzFlash: I mentioned Korea and Vietnam earlier, but weíre seeing the complete erosion of Congressional authority over going to war especially after Bushís preemptive invasion of Iraq. And as you stated, future presidents can and probably will use the preemptive strike doctrine to "protect" America. What does the future hold? What needs to happen for Congress to reassert its authority over matters of war?
John Bonifaz: I think this has to come from the people. I think the people have to demand that their Constitution be followed and that this social contract that exists between the people and the government be abided by. And, in fact, that the question of whether or not impeachable offenses have occurred needs to be addressed by the United States Congress.
There needs to be an investigation as to whether or not this President has committed high crimes. And the people have a responsibility Ė all of us Ė to demand that our nation be followed in terms of its principles. We seek to export the vision of democracy around the world, and yet here in this country, the vision of democracy is under attack. The Constitution is under attack Ė attack by an Administration that sees no interest in following its own Constitutional responsibilities, but rather extending powers beyond anywhere the framers intended, into powers held only by monarchs of the past. And so I think itís important at this moment in history that we as a people stand up and demand our country back. This President has sought to exercise the powers of a king in sending this nation into illegal war, and he ought to be held accountable for it.
BuzzFlash: One of the most appalling responses when people suggest that Bush should be impeached, is that this is just payback for the Clinton impeachment, which is just utterly ridiculous. Deception about two consenting adults over sex and the impact on a civil case, versus the lies and distortions over the reasons and evidence for invading and occupying a country in a preemptive strike doctrine is just absurd to even mention the two incidents in the same sentence. And yet, thatís what the right-wing does. Whatís your response?
John Bonifaz: I think itís clear that if a President can be impeached for alleged charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, then a President surely should be impeached for sending this nation into an illegal war based on lies. No one died in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Here we have over 700 U.S. soldiers dead, thousands of Iraqi civilians dead, thousands more injured on both sides. And yet this President has yet to be held accountable for sending this nation into an illegal war based on lies.
You know, the questions of falsehoods and lies and deception that have been emanating from this Administration regarding this war, and the reasons for going into this war, are directly tied to the issue of whether the process of sending the nation into war was followed. Because if Congress had properly done its job to vet the information, to challenge the Administration to come forward with the evidence it claimed it had, then, in fact, we may not have gone off into war.
But beyond that, it shows how dangerous it is to rely upon one individual to tell us that we are in need of sending the nation to war based on some threat that that one individual sees. This is an awesome power held by this country, with the strongest and most forceful military in the world, and we cannot send this nation into war based on one individualís perception, no matter how right or wrong he may be. And now that this has happened, we need to stand up for the Constitution and demand accountability for all the soldiers who have died, and those who have been injured, for all those on the Iraqi side whoíve died and been injured. We need accountability here. We cannot let this question of high crimes be unanswered.
BuzzFlash: John, thank you so much for speaking with us.
John Bonifaz: Thank you.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
* * *
Your Copy of
National Voting Rights Institute Website
Article from John C. Bonifaz on TomPaine.com, "The First Lie"
otherwise noted, all original