Liberal activists are pressing for the impeachment of federal Judge Jay Bybee over the Bush administration’s “torture memos” in part because there is virtually nothing that President Barack Obama, congressional Republicans or conservative Senate Democrats can do to stop the process from getting under way.
Obama and key members of Congress have weighed in against a “truth commission,” an independent prosecutor and other attempts at war-on-terror accountability. But impeachment is not so easily stymied, especially in its early stages, analysts said.
“If the House votes for it, there’s no way the Senate can avoid it,” a former Senate parliamentarian, Robert Dove, said Monday. “I can’t think of any way of just not acting on it. I assure you, if the Senate could have not acted on the Clinton impeachment, they would not have acted on it…..If the House impeaches, we will have a trial.”
One of the earliest proponents of Bybee’s impeachment, Yale Law School professor Bruce Ackerman [read his Slate article], noted in an interview that Obama — or any president — has no official say in the process. “Constitutionally, it is entirely independent of, and should be independent of, the executive branch,” Ackerman said.
Bybee is in the firing line because, while the top lawyer at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in August 2002, he approved and signed a legal opinion concluding that so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including water-boarding, did not meet the definition of torture under federal law.
Some members of Congress are already on board. This from Think Progress:
Over 5,000 of you have taken action in calling for Congress to commence impeachment hearings against Jay Bybee. This afternoon, ThinkProgress spoke with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) about the campaign. She told us:
jan.gifI would support impeachment hearings for Judge Bybee. ... We’ve already seen that he’s willing to interpret the laws in ways that are counter to the fundamental values of our country. I think that is a proper response.
Jerry Nadler is a powerful member of Congress calling for impeachment:
A top House Democrat said Monday U.S. Judge Jay Bybee "should be impeached" for his role in Justice Department authorization of harsh interrogation methods.
Bybee, who sits on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was a principal author of Justice Department memos released last week by the Obama administration, which provided legal justification for using such methods as waterboarding and slamming suspects into walls during questioning. Former President George W. Bush appointed Bybee to the bench and the Senate confirmed the appointment long before his participation in the development of the interrogation policy was publicly known.
"(Bybee) ought to be impeached," Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., told the Huffington Post Monday. "It was not an honest legal memo. It was an instruction manual on how to break the law."
Nadler -- a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee and chairman of the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee -- is to meet Tuesday with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. He said he would urge the appointment of a special prosecutor.
"Any special prosecutor on torture would have to look at the authors of those torture memos," said Nadler. [John Conyers also is pushing the issue]
A NY Times Editorial called for Bybee's impeachment:
Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an insect — all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners.
In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.
These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.
[...]These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him. And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.
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