I like and respect Bob Fertik and support his efforts to get some accountability for the crimes of the Bush administration. However, his critique of my position on impeachment is a little off the mark. Here’s what I said that Bob is taking issue with:

Any talk of impeachment must account for the seriously depressing prospect that the Republican Party will act collectively as official apologists for torture and thereby, by failing to convict, establish the unhealthy precedent that the most serious violations of human rights are not worthy of removal from office. Compounding the problem is that a failure to attempt to impeach will establish the same precedent.

Notice that I said ‘failing to convict’. That’s a reference to the Senate, not the House, which merely indicts. My concern is that an impeachment effort will end in acquittal, and I don’t like the precedent that sets when the charges involve issues of executive power and human rights abuses.

Bob argues rather unconvincingly that a Senate conviction is possible. That is the heart of our disagreement. To make his case, Bob makes an argument I have made in the past but which I no longer subscribe to. At this late point in the game, I think Bob is engaging in some magical thinking.

Impeachment starts in the House, where it takes only a simple majority to adopt Articles of Impeachment. All of the 234 Democrats except one (Jim Marshall) oppose torture, as do 5 Republicans (Paul, Bartlett, Gilchrest, Smith, and Johnson).

So if outraged citizens like us could persuade Democratic leaders to impeach Bush for authorizing torture, they could get as many as 239 votes, 21 more than the 218 needed for a majority.

Moreover, if House Democrats were united in support of impeachment for torture, the other 193 House Republicans would be in a terrible bind. Going into an already dismal election season, would they really want to defend torture – and Mr. 28%?

There is a significant difference between ‘opposing torture’ and supporting the impeachment of the president and vice-president for ordering what they insist are only ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. And that’s the rub. The administration’s case is weak, but the remedy of impeachment is very strong. And whatever the merits of impeachment, we would have a devil of a time convincing the leadership to take up this semantic fight, let alone convincing even the most ardent Republican opponents of torture to provide a sheen of bipartisan support. Even if we did convince the leadership to open an impeachment inquiry, it’s hard to see how it would lead to even a unified Democratic caucus in support. And I think it takes a near suspension of belief to think that the Senate would ever provide a unified Democratic caucus and another eighteen Republicans and Independents willing to convict.

Bob lays out the case for how this could happen, but I do not find it plausible. Yet, we must find some way to make it plain to the world that we will not let this pass unpunished. Here’s a few ideas. An inquiry can be opened, perhaps by a special bicameral committee, to investigate how torture was authorized, who was tortured as a result, and how torture spread from a few tightly reviewed cases into tragedies like the Abu Ghraib scandal. The committee could make criminal referrals where appropriate, and it could officially censure responsible officials. If they uncover something truly explosive they could refer it to the House Judiciary Committee for an impeachment inquiry.

If Senate Republicans block a special bicameral committee, one can be set up in just the House. Prior to setting up such a committee, the administration should be offered every chance to assign a special prosecutor. Public pressure can be brought to bear.

If none of this can be accomplished, a special prosecutor should be assigned next year, provided the Democrats take over the White House. If the president pardons all the responsible parties, the Congress should pass resolutions expressing the sentiment that all of the pardoned are no longer fit to hold any federal office in the future.

It’s a very unpleasant situation we find ourselves in. As much as we might want to hold people fully responsible for their actions, we already know that the responsible parties involve the highest officers of the U.S. Government. We need to be realistic and not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. It’s essential that the government censure and repudiate the actions that were taken. This may seem like an extreme view to some, but it is a view that is being expressed from Kansas City to Seattle and from Brattleboro, Vermont to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. What I definitely agree with Bob about is the absolute necessity of doing something official to remove this stain on our national honor. And you can do your part by signing the ACLU petition demanding a special prosecutor.

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