It still astonishes me that the whole country could scream impeachment from the rooftops over one president’s mild sexual indiscretion, yet turn a blind eye to this little man, George W. Bush, who took us to war on false pretenses, causing the needless deaths of thousands of our soldiers and over a million innocent Iraqis – men, women, and children.
It astonishes me that we have become a nation that thinks it’s OK to attack other countries without provocation. Or that our leaders could conspire, from the White House, to set up a torture program. Like many others, I’ve been deeply troubled by what seem to be overt abuses of power and breaches of law, from warrantless wiretapping to the outing of a CIA agent to detaining people for years without lawyers or trials. I learned there was a small group trying to get our Fort Worth City Council to pass a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against the president and vice president.
It’s not such a big deal, really. Mostly symbolic – one city adding its voice to 92 other cities and towns that have passed similar resolutions – places like Amherst, Mass., Santa Rosa, Calif., Bristol, Vt., Ithaca, N.Y., and Detroit.
So I went one night to join my voice with others. The idea of speaking to the mayor and city council made me nervous, but I figured I could write out what I had to say and say it, at least once.
All you get is three minutes. That’s not much time. But I talked about how our invasion of Iraq seemed to be not only a violation of the United Nations and Nuremberg charters, but also a violation of every principle this country stands for.
I talked about how prisoners in our custody have been subjected to extremes of heat and cold, noise and light, deprived of sleep, and stripped naked. How there have been cases of vicious beatings, sexual degradation, sodomy, near-drowning, and near-asphyxiation.
Then, I reminded the mayor and council members of the oath they swore upon assuming office: “to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States … “. And I asked them, “Will you now do what you have sworn to do? Will you defend the Constitution? Will you stand for the rule of law?”
There was no answer, of course.
Since then, I’ve asked them that question numerous times, because it’s really the heart of my argument. Every day, new evidence surfaces, new witnesses come forward, such as the president’s former press secretary, Scott McClellan, confirming instances of illegality. Virtually every legal body, from the National Lawyers’ Guild to the American Bar Association, agrees that the Bush administration has violated some law or laws. Britain’s third-most-senior judge has called Guantanamo “a monstrous failure of justice.”
Yet, as I pointed out to the council, their silence and their expressed lack of interest in the resolution would seem to suggest that they can see nothing wrong – everything’s fine, the Constitution is secure. I’ve gone back 20 times now. Often, it’s just me and one other person, Diane Wood, 71, an activist all her life. Others are starting to join us. One of them, a man named Doyle Fine, a naval veteran, stood up one night and spoke in the most eloquent way. Finally, he held up the front page of the Star-Telegram with a photograph of a detainee at Guantanamo and said, “This isn’t what my teachers taught me about my country in grade school.”
The mayor and council members just stared at him blankly.
I suppose I’m an idealist. I keep going back, I guess, because I want to believe that my city is better than most. I can’t accept that good people – defenders of the law – would simply stand by and say nothing at a time like this. Their failure to act strikes me as a failure of conscience. As I said in another speech, “If you remember your history, you’ll find that all criminal regimes rely heavily on the silence and tacit approval of their citizens.”
The next city council meeting is July 22. Will you join us?
Local artist and writer Grayson Harper can be reached at 817-913-1944.