Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Inarguably Criminal

Via Andrew Sullivan, Jane Galt says that it was right to impeach Nixon and not Bush in part since
Nixon fell because his behaviour was inarguably criminal, and worse, petty criminal. And he had it all on tape. Bush's behaviour is not inarguably criminal.
This is wrong on several levels.

First, Nixon's behavior was not "inarguably" criminal, in the sense that people argued it -- a great many Republicans argued that he'd done nothing criminal right up until the end. The switch at the end was the release of the "smoking gun" tape... that was released because of impeachment proceedings (and maybe also the ongoing trial against Nixon's subordinates, I don't recall). The point being that evidence of his criminality was revealed in large part because of impeachment, rather than being the cause of it. (And a few people continued to deny his criminality even after this, of course.)

Of course some people would say that Nixon's criminality was evident long before that -- and they'd be right; but they'd also be the very same people that currently see that Bush's criminality is evident. Whereas the people who currently deny the obvious evidence of Bush's criminality are the very same people who needed that final tape to admit Nixon's (the very same people not only ideologically speaking, i.e. liberals, but often literally the same individuals).

Second, Bush has done a great many things that are inarguably criminal. Not inarguably in the sense that no one will argue it -- as I have just noted, this was never reached for Nixon, and is never reached in many criminal trials, as various people mumble about conspiracies or repeat nonsensical legal arguments or cite imagined facts -- but inarguably in the sense that the arguments for it are terrible, believed by partisans for partisan reasons rather than out of any sense of respect for fact or reason or argument or evidence.

Jane Galt may be right that Bush's Iraq behavior is not "inarguably" criminal, even if it is inarguably the single worst damage he has done to both our country and this world out of an impressively long and substantial list. But he has done plenty of things that are inarguably criminal:

(1) Breaking FISA -- this he's admitted. It's a flatly criminal act.

(2) Endorsing and authorizing torture, in violation of the Geneva conventions, which are the law of the U.S. (since they are a duly-ratified treaty). This is in fact a war crime.

(3) Disappearing prisoners, keeping them in secret prisons off the books; ditto.

(4) Holding citizens without charge or trial or access to council.

That's all just off the top of my head. Then there are the signing statements -- I don't know the specifics, but given that he's declared he won't enforce the laws he signs, and that he has (I believe) followed through on this in many cases, then that's a whole lot of inarguably criminal acts to add to the above list.

And that's just the stuff I remember out of the stuff we know about -- almost certainly a tiny fraction of the whole, given the secrecy and habitual criminality of this administration.

Even aside from Iraq, even aside from his criminally (morally if not legally) negligent treatment of New Orleans after Katrina, even aside from the almost uncountable horrific deeds he has done... Bush has done far more things that are, by any consistent standard, inarguably criminal than Nixon was known to have done at the time impeachment proceedings started against him.

The one thing that Galt gets right here is that Nixon's crimes were petty criminal -- or at least could be easily made to seem so. As many others have pointed out, the guardians of our national political discourse (such as it is) are far more eager to prosecute and condemn petty crimes than serious ones -- for a variety of reasons, but especially because petty crimes tend to be very individual, whereas serious crimes tend to implicate large numbers of people and to be endorsed (to various degrees) by whole political parties, which makes those who dislike debate nervous. So there is some truth to this -- although honestly the only ones who thought that Nixon's crimes were petty at the times are those who similarly think that torture, brazen defiance of laws and the arbitrary arrest of citizens are petty too.

Galt is talking largely about the political implications of impeachment of course, such as the fact that the mess impeachment would cause would give rise to negative feelings which "will almost certainly be laid at the Democratic Party's door " (she doesn't add: by our corrupt and debased media, with their usual ignorance of truth in the service of balance and the worship of raw power). And she may or may not be right about that -- I don't want to get into the debate about the politics of impeachment right now.

But the debate needs to be placed in an accurate context: even aside from his lies about Iraq, Bush has done far more clearly impeachable things than Nixon was shown to have done. He has openly, brazenly and in some cases admittedly broken the law on numerous occasions. Whether the political scene demands that he escape unpunished or not, we should be very clear about what he is not being punished for -- about the scale of the crimes that we know about, and the virtual certainty that even they are dwarfed by many that we don't know about.

Bush is a criminal; Bush has openly defied many laws; Bush is a war criminal. Regardless of what we choose to do with them, these are facts. We need to see them as such.

(See also this earlier post on this topic.)

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