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7 Days in America: What Should Happen Now? A Truth Commission for Bush

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Scott McClellan's book What Happened has been a feast for cable talk shows and commentators everywhere, with much discussion veering off on his motives. The Bush Team went into overdrive with its smear gear. Disgruntled? Money grubbing? Out of the loop? Off his rocker? A Manchurian author controlled by his North-Korean-like publisher? In a laughable attempt to blame the radar gun for the speeder, apologists Michele Bernard and Michael Smerconish actually argued on MSNBC that the big story was whether McClellan wrote the book in order to defeat McCain.

One who got it right was New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who wrote that the issue is not the author but a "scandal and a crime" called Iraq. So since it's not flak McClellan but commander-in-chief Bush with the power of war and peace, life and death over Americans and the world, let's now focus on George, not Scott.

Understandably upset with another source exposing his falsehoods, Karl Rove went on Fox to say that McClellan "sounds like a liberal blogger." Well...yes! In fact the liberal community -- Air America, MoveOn, the Nation, the Huffington Post and scores of others -- has been completely vindicated on Iraq and Rove et. al. completely discredited. Since the Far Right likes World War II and Hitler analogies, here's one -- the left was mocked and then historically vindicated about Iraq as much as an out-of-power Churchill was when he warned about the rise of Nazi Germany. Facts are stubborn things, said President Reagan.

And on the question of W's veracity generally, again we need only stipulate what scores of books, articles and probes have shown. As Lincoln once said of a rival, "he has such a high regard for the truth he uses it sparingly."

So most of the MSM may still feel the need to engage in on-the-one-hand-on-the-other hand journalism -- "let's hear from both sides on whether the earth is flat" -- the verdict is now in. It's not only McClellan but also a slew of books on Iraq (Fiasco, Hubris) and other administration memoirs and articles (Tenet, O'Neill, Clarke, Dowd)) which confirm that Team Bush misled the press and public by using propaganda to stampede America into a war that's spurred more terrorism and led to hundreds of thousands of lost lives and limbs.

This is now the majority view. And if some 25% of Americans disagree, it's probably the same quarter that believe that NASA staged the moon landing. The verdict is in.

But now what? How can we hold Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Woo and all of them accountable? For what we have here is not just a normal failed administration or even one Nixonian Watergate but a systematically corrupt group of people who shamelessly and serially lied and violated the law. America needs to make sure that some future administration doesn't assume that they too can dissemble and cheat since W got away with doing it for two terms and retired to a life of relaxing at the ranch and being feted by AEI and the Petroleum Club of Houston.

Until the President imitates the communist party boss of Mianzhu on his knees seeking forgiveness from mothers whose children died when their shoddy schools collapsed during the recent earthquake, here are four suggestions for those who a) understand that the Congress won't impeach Bush and Cheney and b) refuse to patiently wait for the verdict of historians in 50 years, as Bush urges:

*Vote Big.
Americans have to use the franchise to reject Bushism by significantly increasing the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and electing a Democratic President with a big mandate. Record primary turnouts and wrong-track polls indicate that this is a realistic prospect. Revenge is a dish best served by 140 million voters. That's a recipe that the Republican Right will understand.

*Shame 'em. The mainstream media has to stop coddling this group and not allow them to escape scrutiny with a smile and a spin - Dan Bartlett on McClellan comes to mind. So, for example, when Bush tells the Air Force Academy last week that Iraq is like World War II, could a prominent network correspondent say: "You're kidding, right? For if it's similar, why did we draft millions in 1941 and no one in 2008? Would we have fought and won WWII with 150,000 soldiers?"

*Sue. While legal rules about "standing" have so far made it hard to legally uncover all the illegalities of this regime, the Federal False Claims Act allows individual citizens to sue (it's called "Qui Tam") if the government spent money fraudulently -- and then get a percentage of any recovery. Indeed, I'd guess that a private for-profit group could raise funds to create a law firm with the sole purpose of bringing False Claims Acts against federal agencies and complicit individuals for, say, Halliburton's illegal contracts or overruns or against government officials who unlawfully spent money appropriated for Afghanistan in Iraq. Hit them in the pocketbook.

*Create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). This worked in a very different historical situation of South Africa and can work here as well. There, South Africans who engaged in murder and violence were given amnesty if they confessed under oath to their crimes and knowledge...but would be prosecuted if they didn't. Of some 7110 seeking amnesty, 849 were granted it for "politically motivated" crimes...which in turn provided evidence to pressure and prosecute others. The largely successful effort led to both truth and reconciliation.

If Richard Nixon had his Leon Jaworski, a special prosecutor who sent 29 aides to jail, who will investigate George W. Bush? If massive prosecutions is too big a bite for a 44th president wanting to look to the future, here's a fair, workable compromise to make sure that the past doesn't become prologue.

In 2009 a new President could choose a new Attorney General who similarly announces that s/he will prosecute past officials for unlawful acts unless they first come forward and testify under oath. Because Bushies took literally their oaths to "faithfully execute the laws," their record amounts to a near executive coup d'etat (see Charles Savage's Takeover and my Losing our Democracy, chapters 2 & 3). Such examples include:

  • condoning torture;
  • ignoring the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act;
  • assigning officials to politically campaign in open violation of the Hatch Act;
  • refusing to enforce the Clean Air Act;
  • spending money for propaganda as the Pentagon did in gathering former brass to hit the airwaves;
  • violating contracting rules by giving lucrative contracts to favored firms,
  • engaging in cronyism and coercion to influence prosecutions in the U.S. Attorneys
  • abusing signing statements.

Indeed, even mere falsehoods could be investigated if they were under oath to Congress or if they legally vouched for false budgets, as Sarbanes Oxley explicitly does for CEOs attesting to annual reports.

If what we know about lies and illegalities is largely what managed to leak out or has been disclosed by a few insiders, imagine how much more may come out when a new administration turns over 43's rock of corruption?

A TRC for the Bush-Cheney administration would be unprecedented for the U.S. But so is a government of crooks and liars who misled us into a calamitous war and openly violated the U.S. Constitution. Or is it only consensual sexual misconduct by a president that warrants the attention of investigators? The way to deter the "culture of deception" in McClellan's subtitle is a combination of voters, lawyers, prosecutors and a Truth Commission -- to vote against it, sue it, prosecute it, or expose it. Do we believe in the Rule of Law or only the 'Law' of Rule?

EXCERPTS FROM 7 DAYS IN AMERICA, MAY 31, W/ ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, CONASON, HUFFINGTON & GREEN

Listen to the entire show here.

ZIMMERMAN: Q: A lot of the mainstream media mock Hillary Clinton for first agreeing that Florida and Michigan wouldn't count yet now saying that it'd be a violation of civil rights if they don't. On the other hand, you're a Clinton superdelegate who blames Obama for the mess. Why? "Let's be clear about it, he is one of many players who have participated in the scandal of disenfranchising Florida and Michigan. The only real answer was to have a re-vote in both those states, period, end of story. It is an absolute dereliction of duty -- from the Democratic National Committee to the local state governments of Michigan and Florida to the Obama campaign -- because all of them either did not either make the effort to push for a re-vote or,as we saw from the Obama representatives, engaged in a strategy to block a re-vote."

ZIMMERMAN: Q: Will Scott McClellan's book have any effect this year since already Bush has the highest negative rating of any sitting President in modern times? Does this simply make each side dig in their heels even more? "I think it has a tremendous impact because it puts the Iraq war and our policies on the Iraq war front and center in the national debate. While John McCain stands with the Bush administration, Democrats stand with 67% of the American people who feel this war was a tragic miscalculation and want a change of direction to fight terrorism more effectively."

HUFFINGTON: Q: What's your view of Robert Zimmerman's complaint that Obama's campaign stalled and helped defeat revotes in Florida and Michigan because it wasn't in their political interest? "I find this whole conversation amazing, honestly. Because it ignores the fact that Hillary Clinton's campaign, Obama's campaign, all the candidates who were in the race at the time agreed that Florida and Michigan were going to be punished because they were breaking the rules of the party. Now I think it was a stupid decision, but it was made by all of them. So I don't understand why we are debating this, I don't understand why the media treated this as a serious point, when in fact it is nothing more than an attempt to have a redo. There should be no redo. The delegates should be seated split between Clinton and Obama, the end."

CONASON: "The problem with Arianna's point, if I may, is that, the fact that the Clinton and Obama people went along with a bad decision of the DNC in the first place does not in my view justly disenfranchise everybody who voted in those states."

HUFFINGTON: Q: Karl Rove responded to McClellan's new book by saying that McClellan 'just sounds like a left-wing blogger.' Do you regard that as a smear or flattery? "No, I actually think he does sound like many of us who have been writing about this thing since 2002, and that's why the title of my blog post about him was 'Scotty Come Lately' because his critique not just of the Bush administration but of the media has been spot on but way too late. I'm glad he did it obviously, but there also has to be some questions asked of him like why now and why not then?"

CONASON: "I actually don't see much point in quarreling over the nature of Scott McClellan's character which I think has been well established for years as deficient -- the question is whether he has anything interesting to say, and, as Arianna said, his assessment of the subservience of the press to the White House during the years while he was there is devastating. And of course the reaction has been very interesting because they are extremely defensive. Charles Gibson got on the air the other day and said, 'oh no, we did a great job and we really pressed them when Colin Powell testified,' and if you go back, as Glenn Greenwald did in Salon and look at what Gibson said at the time, he was a complete lap dog. So that to me is the crucial point here, it's the podium's-eye view of a press that is kneeling before them."

HUFFINGTON: Q: What do you think of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for America -- in other words, if the Congress will not impeach this year and if Bush wants us to wait 50 years for history to vindicate him, how about something in between? In 2009 the Congress passes a law asserting that the Bush people cannot be prosecuted for any illegal misconduct so long as they testify under oath about their crimes and lies...they get amnesty for candor."I absolutely love this idea. I think you should sit down for 10 minutes and write it down as a blog post for the Huffington Post."