What do Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), chair
of the House Committee on the Judiciary, and President George W. Bush have in
common? They both think they can dis Cindy Sheehan and count on gossip columnists
like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to trivialize an historic moment.
I’ll give this to President Bush. He makes no pretence when he disses. He would
not meet with Sheehan to define for her the "noble cause" for which
her son Casey died or tell her why he had said it was "worth it."
Conyers, on the other hand, was dripping with pretence as he met with Sheehan,
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, and me yesterday in his office in the Rayburn building.
I have seldom been so disappointed with someone I had previously held in high
esteem. And before leaving, I told him so. Throwing salt in our wounds, he had
us, and some fifty others in his anteroom arrested and taken out of action as
the Capitol Police "processed" us for the next six hours.
As we began our discussion with Conyers, it was as though he thought we were
"born yesterday," as Harry Truman would put it. With feigned enthusiasm
he began, Let’s hold a Town Hall meeting in Detroit so we can talk about impeachment.
Get out my schedule; let’s see, we need to hear from everyone about this.
Been there, done that, I reminded the congressman. On May 29, 2007 Col. Ann
Wright and I were among those who flew to Detroit for a highly advertised Town
Hall meeting on impeachment, because we were assured that John Conyers would
That Town Hall/panel discussion was arranged by the Michigan chapter of the
National Lawyers Guild less than two weeks after the Detroit City Council passed
a resolution, cosponsored by Conyers’ wife Monica Conyers – calling for the
impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. We had hoped that Monica’s
clear vision and courage might be contagious.
Husband a No-Show
I had to remind the congressman that he did not
show up for the Town Hall, preferring to put in a cameo appearance and quickly
leave a half-hour before it began.
Apparently, that incident was of such little consequence to the congressman
that he had completely forgotten about it and was about to try to resort to
the same subterfuge. And that was less than two months ago. Small wonder, then,
that he has apparently forgotten the oath he took, much longer ago, to protect
and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and
Selective Alzheimer’s? I don’t know. What was clear was that he had forgotten
a whole lot. I pointed to James Madison’s role in crafting a Constitution that
mentions impeachment no fewer than six times. And for those, like John Conyers,
who may have forgotten, Madison had this to say at the Constitutional Convention,
"A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution."
I mentioned my career as a CIA analyst, said there is abundant proof, much of
it documentary, that Bush and Cheney had deliberately deceived Congress into
approving a war of aggression, and asked what could be more subversive of the
The congressman’s reply: Madison did not say Conyers has to impeach every one.
Why, if I had to impeach everyone for high crimes and misdemeanors, that’s all
my committee would have time to do.
I remember from Rhetoric 101 the name of that device: reductio ad absurdum.
How about just Bush and Cheney? we suggested.
Conyers protested that he would need 218 votes in the House and complained
that the votes are not there. His priorities showed through in his loud lament
that if he fell short of the 218 votes, the Republicans and FOX News would have
a field day.
Frightened by FOX
There was no getting through to Conyers, who seemed
astonished at the direct questions we were posing. While reflecting on this
later, a dictum of my father, also a prominent lawyer began to ring in my ears;
to wit: "When you reach the age of ‘statutory senility,’ you do everyone
a favor if you retire." He followed his own advice when he retired as Chancellor
of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, long before
senility – statutory, or otherwise – set in for him.
Septuagenarian Conyers and, for that matter, 80 year-old Senator John Warner
(R-Virginia) who also seems to have forgotten his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution
would do well to ponder my father’s dictum. (As for the "distinguished"
senior senator from Commonwealth of Virginia, you may recall that, as head of
the Senate Armed Services Committee, he caved in to White House pressure to
let the Pentagon investigate itself regarding the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere
– letting lower ranking soldiers take the hit for doing what then-defense secretary
Donald Rumsfeld had made clear he wanted done. At that low point, surely groaning
could be heard from James Madison’s resting place in Montpelier at the disdain
in which successor Virginians – however "distinguished" – hold his
beloved Constitution. Sorry, but I am a Virginian. And I feel this keenly.
O Tempora, O Mores!)
Attempted Trading on King
Toward the end of our meeting with Conyers, he
showed uncommon chutzpah in referring to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That was
too much for me. You’re no Martin Luther King, I found myself wanting to say.
Instead, I quoted a portion of Dr. King’s famous address at Riverside Church
almost 40 years ago:
"We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited
vision, but we must speak.... there is such a thing as being too late.... Life
often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with lost opportunity....
Over the bleached bones of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words:
I used that quote in a letter I left with Conyers’ aides, in which I tried
to express why my colleagues in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
feel it is URGENT to find some way to apply the Constitution to restrain a run-away
The text of that letter follows:
* * *
July 23, 2007
A Note to Congressman John Conyers:
On Impeachment and the Edmund Pettus Bridge
We each have our favored crime for which President Bush and Vice President
Cheney should be impeached. Many of us have several.
But the real challenge is to look AHEAD. What are Bush/Cheney likely to do
in the coming months if the impeachment process does NOT begin?
One often hears, Oh, they will do what they want anyway, impeachment process
or not. Not true. If we the people and our representatives in Congress choose
the course given us by our Founders and impeachment proceedings begin, important
swaths of our body politic AND military will be less likely to follow illegal
orders from the White House. These important constituencies will become sensitized
to the peril into which this administration has brought us and to the extra-constitutional
orders they may be asked to carry out.
NEW ELEMENT: Even the Scaif-owned newspapers have begun to question Bush’s
What could be more important at this juncture?
We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) have been applying
all of our analytical techniques to assess the Bush/Cheney administration. We
have helped to establish the long record of abuses and usurpations of the past.
What about the future?
Iraq is going to hell in a hand basket. A Tet-type incident becomes more and
more likely. The Green Zone is being hit by mortar fire more frequently than
before. It may be just a matter of time before the Resistance gets lucky and
lobs a shell onto our spanking new $600-million embassy, killing a bunch of
Americans in the process.
What then? Will Cheney tell the president the US military has found Iranian
markings on the shell fragments and we need to retaliate...and, actually, while
we’re at it, let’s implement Plan A and hit all Iranian nuclear-related facilities.
With Congress voting resolution after resolution against Iran, how would the
president react to such a suggestion from Cheney?
Many of us intelligence analysts have found utility in relying, in part, on
short studies applying psychoanalysis to develop profiles of foreign leaders.
(This marriage of psychoanalysis and intelligence work actually goes back to
the early 1940s, when the OSS commissioned such studies on Hitler.) We called
them "at-a-distance personality assessments."
Three years ago Justin Frank, M.D., a psychiatrist here in Washington, wrote
a book, Bush
on the Couch, in which he provided keen insights into the president’s
mode of thinking – or not thinking.
Eager to use every tool at our disposal, VIPS recently asked Dr. Frank to update
his observations, with a view to forecasting, to the extent possible, how Bush
is likely to react to the building pressures of the coming weeks and months.
We will issue, perhaps as early as this week, Dr. Frank’s latest analysis, fortified
by our own input. But we already have his preliminary analysis; there is no
other word for it: Scary.
In a quick note to us this morning [July 23], Dr. Frank noted we are "dealing
with a potentially cornered man [who] could lash out, and it is possible that
the best way would be to bomb Iran.... Whatever the root causes of Bush’s pathology,
we have a dangerous man running things...grandiose and unchecked."
Some snippets from the Memorandum that Dr. Frank is drafting for issuance under
"George W. Bush is without conscience...and destructive, willfully
so. He has always liked to break things...most shocking is the way he is breaking
our armed forces.
"He doesn’t care about others, is indifferent to their suffering...He
is almost constitutionally missing the ability to sympathize or empathize...More
indifferent to reality than out of touch with it, he makes up whatever story
"Ultimately, he is psychologically unstable...His goal is to destroy
things [and he can do that] without experiencing anxiety or a sense of responsibility.
An equally important goal is to protect himself from shame, from being wrong,
from being found small and weak."
So what do we do?
At a similarly critical juncture, Dr. King was typically direct: "We must speak
with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must
speak.... there is such a thing as being too late.... Life often leaves us standing
bare, naked, and dejected with lost opportunity.... Over the bleached bones
of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’"
There is today another Edmund Pettus Bridge to cross, John. And it has fallen
to you to lead us across.
An earlier version of this article appeared on Consortiumnews.com.