The Republicans are trying to keep George W. Bush out of jail. So far, the media and the Democrats haven't done much to stop them.
On the surface, it seems the Republicans are having a debate about "wiretapping terrorists" and "harsh interrogation of prisoners." These frames about the current "rebellion" by McCain, Graham, Warner, et al, are today embraced by both the Republican Party and the mainstream media.
But the real issue is whether Republicans in Congress will trade the principles of democracy and the rule of law to keep George W. Bush and several of his colleagues out of jail, or whether they'll uphold the rule of law and American democracy while abandoning him to face the consequences of his illegal acts.
On June 29, 2006, in the Hamdan Case, the US Supreme Court ruled that Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration had violated the Geneva Convention and other international treaties with regard to the treatment and prosecution of detainees in the so-called "war on terror."
The logic of the decision could subject Bush, Cheney, Gonzales, and Rumsfeld - along with those down the chain of command who followed their orders - to prosecution as war criminals both in the United States and internationally. If they violated Common Article 3 and others of the Geneva Conventions, they could be subject to lengthy imprisonment in the US for violating US laws, as well as being brought before the United Nation's International Court of Justice at The Hague, the same as Slobodan Milosevic.
A hastily convened conference call by the Justice Department to discuss the ruling caused Brian Roehrkasse at the Department of Justice Public Affairs Office to comment to those on the call that "the Supreme Court's holding indicates the military commissions, as currently constituted by DOD, while robust in affording enemy combatants more process than this or any other country has ever afforded enemy combatants, are not consistent with current congressional statutes, especially the UCMJ and treaty provisions, Common Article 3."
A plain English translation would be close to: "The Supreme Court said we've broken US law, we've broken the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and we've broken the Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3."
About six weeks later, on August 17, 2006, Federal Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled in Detroit that George W. Bush and his administration had committed numerous felonies with regard to wiretapping American citizens without a legal warrant, including violating the FISA act (which carries a 5-year prison term as the penalty for each violation) and violating the Constitution (which carries impeachment as its penalty). Later in the day, the Department of Homeland Security facilitated the arrest in Thailand of John Mark Karr for killing JonBenet Ramsey, sweeping the story off the front page and out of the weekend news analysis shows, but the ruling is still there.
Thus the Republicans are scrambling.
If either of these precedents carry forward or are seriously prosecuted - as could happen if Democrats take either the House or the Senate and gain the power to investigate crimes of the Bush Administration, or could simply happen as the normal course of events if lawyers in the Justice Department and the United Nations enforce the law - Republicans are faced with the very real possibility that George W. Bush and others in his administration could go to prison. Impeachment is a virtual given.
Thus the spin. And the compromises. And the debates within the Republican Party. And the corporate media's efforts to limit the discussion to the "wiretapping debate" and the "prisoner interrogation/torture debate."
Scratch the veneer off, though, and you quickly see that this is really about keeping George out of jail.
This one will be interesting to watch.
Will the Republicans bail George out the way Osama's half-brother, Salem Bin Laden (who soon thereafter died in a plane crash in Texas), did when Dubya's Harken Oil Company was going bust? Will they keep him from being prosecuted the way his father did when Poppy shut down an SEC investigation of Junior's inside trading? Will they keep him out of federal custody the way his daddy did when Dubya left the Texas Air National Guard to desert the military and go on a year-long drinking binge in Alabama?
And will the Democratic Party seize the frame - or use as an October Surprise - the fact of George W. Bush's vulnerability to criminal prosecution?
Or will the Republicans - and maybe even Poppy Bush (who's spending an eerie amount of time with his new surrogate son, Bill Clinton) - simply decide that after sixty years it's finally time for George to fend for himself, and leave our laws intact?
It could, after all, be the best way for a "maverick" Republican like McCain to reclaim the Republican party and pin all the blame for five years of High Crimes And Misdemeanors on Dubya, paving the way for a "cleaner" Republican slate in the '08 elections. Many of these same Republicans, remember, were pushing hard for jail time for Bill Clinton for lying to a Grand Jury about having sex in the Oval Office - and were quite vocal about how a president could be both impeached and prosecuted for crimes.
The next few weeks - and the fine print in the "compromises" being hammered out among Republicans in the Senate right now - will tell.
Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show carried on the Air America Radio network and Sirius. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books include "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection," "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," "What Would Jefferson Do?" and "Ultimate Sacrifice." His most recent book is "Screwed: The Undeclared War on the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It."