“Today is probably the happiest day of my life, since Casey's death.”
Cindy Sheehan, founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, an advocacy group for families of soldiers killed in Iraq, voiced her satisfaction at a June 16 "Presidential Accountability" rally which focused on the Downing Street Memo and the crisis of the Bush Administration regarding its continued occupation of Iraq.
The rally followed a hearing led by Representative John Conyers Jr., the ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee and the Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus. The hearing explored details of the "Downing Street Memo," the leaked British document that shows the Bush Administration planned the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq as early as July 2002.
At this hearing, which was denied a proper meeting room and was suspiciously in competition with 11 concurrently scheduled House votes called by Republicans, three dozen Democratic representatives joined with Conyers in a tiny basement room, declaring that the Downing Street Memo (DSM) was the first "primary source" document to report that prewar intelligence was intentionally manipulated in order to make a case for invading Iraq. Anti-war statements were also given by former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, Boston lawyer John Bonifaz, a co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org, and Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, California, the mother of Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq in April 2004.
The DSM, disputed by Washington and London in some of its details but not its authenticity, gives the minutes of a July 23, 2002 meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his national security advisors. The internal memo states that, in the opinion of "C" (Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service), "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the [Bush administration's] policy. It "seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action." Since then, several other British government memos have become public that also make the case that the White House was planning the war long before it admitted to doing so.
At the hearing, Sheehan said, "I think maybe I'm going to get some justice for Casey, and for the 1,713 other brave Americans and the tens of thousands, uncounted and countless Iraqi people who have been killed by lies and by the betrayal of our country." She continued, "President George W. Bush doesn't deserve our allegiance. He doesn't deserve to go back to Crawford, Texas. He deserves to go to prison for what he did."
Sheehan's sentiments of prosecuting Bush and Co. were echoed at the rally by members of Congress. The deliberate misleading of Congress is an impeachable offense under the U.S. Constitution. In addition, under the precedents established at Nuremberg, Bush and other members of his administration such as Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and others, could be indicted and tried for war crimes under international law.
The Democratic representatives attending the earlier hearing asserted that if information contained in the Memo had been available to the Congress prior to the war, neither the House nor the Senate would have supported the October 11, 2002, congressional vote empowering the President to order the invasion.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-NY, asked simply, "Has the president misled, or deliberately misled, the Congress?"
Bonifaz, who served as lead counsel for a coalition of US soldiers, parents of US soldiers, and Members of Congress in a federal lawsuit challenging President George W. Bush's authority to wage war against Iraq absent a congressional declaration of war or equivalent action, noted, "The recent release of the Downing Street Memo provides new and compelling evidence that the President of the United States has been actively engaged in a conspiracy to deceive and mislead the United States Congress and the American people about the basis for going to war against Iraq. If true, such conduct constitutes a High Crime under Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution."
The DSM, has actually been published in its entirety by a number of U.S. newspapers. Meanwhile, polls show that support for the Iraq War is rapidly declining in the country, and that at least one Republican member of Congress, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, has come out against it.
On May 5, 2005, Rep. Conyers sponsored a hearing in which he and 88 other congressional members demanded in a letter to Bush that five questions related to the DSM be answered. Bush has not yet responded. A grassroots Internet initiative has solicited over 560,000 signatures of concerned citizens in support of Conyers' letter.
Rep. Conyers, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Diane E. Watson (D-CA), Rep. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and other congressional members personally delivered these signatures to the guards at a White House gate after the June 16 rally in Lafayette Park.
Rep. Waters also spoke to the rally at Lafayette Park: "Today is a new beginning. We are now focusing on the big lie. The Congress has come alive. We are going to take on this president in a real way. We are going to take it to the streets."
Waters emphasized that the president is "a liar," re-emphasizing that "There were never any WMD." Waters announced to the crowd that fifty members of the House have already signed on to the newly formed "Out of Iraq Caucus."
Conyers, who was one of the keynote speakers at a massive March 15, 2003, anti-war rally in Washington, D.C., and has declared that it is the U.S., not Iraq, that needed "a regime change," said at the June 16 rally, "This is a great, historic day in America. We have finally broken through the stonewalling that has been going on in the Congress. Now, we were told one thing in America, but in London they were planning a war all the time.... We need more hearings, more questions and more marches and more protests. This is only a beginning, which is going to turn this sad and terrible war around."
The recent hearing and rally and their aftermath has ushered in new energy and confidence to the anti-war movement. The excitement of the realistic possibility of the impeachment of Bush and the participation of elected officials will help to broaden the movement even further. What is absolutely crucial for US anti-war and anti-imperialist activists at this juncture is to not simply stop at the doorstep of the progressives in the Democratic Party.
The final conclusion to all of this energy to impeach Bush and Co and try them for war crimes was to vote Democrat, in order to "take back our Congress" and "take back our country." This was the call from the podium and the leaflets being passed around at the rally. The organizers were all working for the Progressive Democrats of America. Most of these same people who were rallying against the war would not have come out if Kerry were across the street in the White House, increasing the number of troops in Iraq as he said he would. Elected officials of the Democratic Party and the DNC receive campaign contributions from the same companies in the military industry as the Republican Party (see Amy Goodman's book Exception to the Rulers).
As uplifting as the June 16 events were, they demonstrated clearly the constant danger of American voters and activists buying into the least-worst "alternative". The Congress, in a bipartisan manner, still recently voted for the $86 billion to fund the occupation of Iraq. True and complete societal change is endangered when we stop short of our ultimate goal by saying "There are good individuals in this present party or system." Was Bill Clinton a "better" individual, even though he presided over eight years of sanctions against the people of Iraq, sanctions that killed over a million Iraqis?
In every corrupt system there exist great individuals. There are "nice guy" CEOs, warm-hearted military generals, there were even conscientious people in the Nazi party who worked to do the right thing and subvert. The existence of great, progressive individuals is not in dispute -- in fact, these individuals demonstrate clearly the indomitable human spirit and the reason why struggle is necessary. Even in the most desperate, cruel, and seemingly insurmountable situations, people have resisted, and sometimes won. Great individuals, however, do not justify barbaric, unnatural, inhumane systems -- they instead give evidence to why those systems need to be toppled, for without the repression and oppression of these systems, all of us, every one of us, could shine and be great individuals.
The task now is to remind ourselves that progressive elected officials were pushed and dragged into action by the demonstrators in the street, by the sit-ins and the deluge of calls, faxes and e-mails by anti-war citizens to their elected representatives. We need to empower ourselves with the knowledge that it was our action in the streets that enabled the recent moves by the progressives in Congress. We then must take this energy and empower the entire international movement with this new confidence and success. In this manner, we can truly work to end all wars, and the incessant drive of profit over the safety and welfare of the world's people.
Virginia Rodino is on the steering committee of United for Peace and Justice and a director of Democracy Rising. You can comment on this column at her blogspot: www.DemocracyRising.US.
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