There are two ways to view the news that the House Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing on impeachable crimes by President George W. Bush.
One view would be that this is all a charade and that after all, it will not be a real impeachment hearing, but rather, simply a hearing into the impeachable crimes of the Bush administration. As committee Chair Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) put it, "We're not doing impeachment, but he [Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who introduced 36 articles of impeachment] can talk about it." Viewed that way, this is not such a big deal. Rep. Kucinich gets to make his case that the president is committing high crimes and misdemeanors and abuses of power and war crimes, but then Congressional Democrats will continue to ignore all the crimes as it has done since taking control of Congress in November 2006.
But a second way to view this is as a significant victory over the quisling Congressional leadership, which has been ducking its responsibility to defend the Constitution and to stand up for the rule of law not just since November 2006, but since the inception of the Bush/Cheney presidency.
I go for the second interpretation of events. It is clear, as was beautifully laid out in an article published by Glenn Greenwald in Salon magazine on July 15, that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership both in Congress and in the party organization, have been blocking any action on impeachment for fear of having their own complicity in Bush's and Cheney's crimes revealed. As Greenwald notes, the Washington Post has reported that Pelosi, along with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) were briefed on the administration's use of torture and not only didn't object, but actively encouraged it. Rockefeller and Harman, who at the time were minority leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees at the time, were also briefed about Bush's order to the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless spying on Americans. They didn't object or publicly expose this blatant violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment. And of course, many, if not most of the House and Senate Democratic leadership as well as many of the rank-and-file members of the party in both houses backed Bush's illegal war on Iraq, and his USA PATRIOT Act.
No wonder Pelosi, even before winning control of Congress and being elected Speaker, made it clear that under her "leadership" (if it can be called that), impeachment of either Bush or Cheney would be "off the table."
Looked at in this light, the fact that the House just voted 251-166 to send Kucinich's 36 articles of impeachment to the Judiciary Committee for a hearing, that Pelosi has had to buckle, and that Conyers has agreed to hold even an "informational" hearing on impeachment, at which Kucinich, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), and other impeachment advocates in the House will be able to present their case about the president's crimes and abuses of power, constitutes a major victory of principle over cowardice, of integrity over complicity, of the Constitution over creeping fascism. (24 Republicans joined in voting to send the articles to the committee.)
The fact is that public demands to hold this criminal administration accountable for its crimes against the Constitution, the American people and the global community, have been mounting and have reached a point that the Democratic leadership, as terrified as it is of impeachment and of the accompanying airing of its own complicity in those crimes, has been forced to allow an airing of those crimes.
Now I don't expect Rep. Kucinich to bite the hand that feeds him. He will not present the impeachment case in a way that criticizes those leaders. Indeed, he has publicly thanked both Pelosi and Conyers for allowing a hearing on impeachment. But it would be surprising if Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee didn't make those points. And that's good. Even if real impeachment hearings never actually come to pass, we will be treated, finally, to a public airing of not just the president's and vice president's crimes, but of the Democratic Party leadership's participation in them.
The challenge now will be for the American people and for the wide-spread and decentralized impeachment movement, and all progressive, anti-war and civil liberties organizations, to press Conyers and the Judiciary Committee to take it to the next level. If Kucinich, Wexler and others do their job, and if we all demand that the corporate media report on the hearings, Americans will finally know the extent of this administration's crimes against the Constitution, and the nature of the threat it poses to democracy and freedom in America. At that point it will be time to demand that the Judiciary Committee move to constitute itself as a formal Impeachment Committee, with full power to subpoena and demand the appearance of witnesses in a real impeachment hearing.
The hour is getting late, but there is still time to bring this criminal administration to justice.
American voters may forgive leaders like Pelosi, Harman, Rockefeller and others for failing to stand up to Bush and Cheney if their names get dragged through the mud of an impeachment hearing, but the American people will never forgive them or the rest of the Congress if it allows these two men to leave office next January without tar and feathers on their backs and a federal grand jury on their cases.
Call your representative today and every day (at 202-224-3121) and demand that he or she co-sponsor some or all of Rep. Kucinich's 36 bills of impeachment, and join the call for real impeachment hearings. Send them an email. And sign the petition calling for impeachment hearings.
We are witnessing a backdown by the House leadership. It's time to push harder. Impeachment hearings, and impeachment itself, can happen!
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.