I don’t, as a rule, endorse legislation: being a libertarian and all, my faith in the ability of government action to have any beneficial effect is exactly nil. However, in the case of the Executive Accountability Act of 2009 [.pdf], I’m making an exception. This is because, unlike most if not all legislation that seeks to regulate or otherwise shape the behavior of ordinary people, the Executive Accountability Act regulates the behavior of government officials, namely POTUS and his underlings and exacts severe penalties in case of violation.
Rep. Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina, has introduced a bill that makes it a federal crime for a U.S. president or "an officer or employee of the executive branch of the government" to "knowingly and willingly" mislead Congress and the American people to gain authorization for U.S. military action. The five-year statute of limitations, moreover, doesn’t begin to run until the president leaves office.
If only it could be made retroactive! Its reach would go far beyond Bush and Cheney to cover many of the behind-the-scenes players who are eagerly awaiting their return to power. After all, a case can be made that Bush didn’t "knowingly and willingly" falsify intelligence, he was hornswoggled by a bunch of too-clever-for-their-own-good neocons, who fed the White House Ahmed Chalabi‘s elaborate fabrications and stifled dissent in the CIA and other intelligence-gathering agencies.
If the Jones bill becomes law, a member of the executive branch up to and including POTUS is liable to be locked up for a decade if he or she, in making the case for war,
"(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or (3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry."
If anything describes the machinations of the War Party in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, then this is it. They covered up the essential facts and wrote their own alternative narrative. Not only that, but one of their number went so far as to openly disdain the "reality-based community," i.e., those poor schmucks still stuck in the mire of mere "empiricism," unable to comprehend the "new reality" which he and his confreres were making up as they went along.
False, fictitious, and fraudulent? That’s what the Office of Special Plans which cherry-picked factoids and dolled them up into pro-war talking points was all about. And speaking of "false writing" and phony documents, remember the Niger uranium forgeries? Those were such obvious fakes that anyone who cited them was, without a doubt, knowingly and willingly engaged in deception. Yet the president mentioned them in a key speech justifying the Iraq war. Even if he didn’t know he was repeating a lie, surely whoever inserted that into the speech did know. The Executive Accountability Act would punish such liars in the future with jail time, as they deserve.
One could argue that it is already a federal crime for a government official to knowingly mislead Congress, but Jones’ legislation would make it easier to prosecute and it has the added advantage of specifically naming POTUS, which, in the age of the imperial presidency, is a definite necessity. This will make Obama and his successors think twice before they stretch the truth when the question of war and peace is on the table.
Oh, I can just hear the Obamatons now: why, the president our president would never do such a thing!
Really? Well, then, consider this:
"Little more than a year after U.S. spy agencies concluded that Iran had halted work on a nuclear weapon, the Obama administration has made it clear that it believes there is no question that Tehran is seeking the bomb.
"In his news conference this week, President Obama went so far as to describe Iran’s ‘development of a nuclear weapon’ before correcting himself to refer to its ‘pursuit’ of weapons capability.
"Obama’s nominee to serve as CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, left little doubt about his view last week when he testified on Capitol Hill. ‘From all the information I’ve seen,’ Panetta said, ‘I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.’
"The language reflects the extent to which senior U.S. officials now discount a National Intelligence Estimate issued in November 2007 that was instrumental in derailing U.S. and European efforts to pressure Iran to shut down its nuclear program."
How many times do we have to go through this? The CIA says one thing, the White House says another, and eventually the former must bend its knee to the latter. We don’t find out until it’s too late that the intelligence professionals were right to begin with. The Jones bill would end this cycle of deception and make our officials think twice before they cite dubious "intelligence" to justify a war.
“We’re saying, Mr. President, be sure,” Jones said in an interview with Military.com. “Be sure that if you are going to ask us to commit our boys and girls to risk their lives, that all the facts are on the table. Make sure there are no questions. Mr. President, you better be sure."
Amen, brother. As the U.S. war machine revs up its motors for an escalation of the Afghan war and perhaps an incursion or two into Pakistan, while also setting its sights on Iran, the Executive Accountability Act will put a real crimp in the usual barrage of war propaganda that invariably accompanies a major military action. Since most of that propaganda originates from within the U.S. government, specifically the executive branch, the Jones bill will at least have the advantage of making these inveterate liars nervous what with 10 years in the hoosegow hanging over their heads.
Oh, now, be realistic, Raimondo that bill will never pass! Well, now that I’m talking to myself, perhaps you’re right: I may be deluded. Or maybe I’m just undergoing a rare spasm of optimism, because I think it just could happen. Hearings on the Jones bill, now before the Judiciary Committee, are scheduled for this spring and should prove interesting.
Contact your congressional representatives and let them know politely and briefly that you support the Executive Accountability Act (HR 743) and hope that they will consider supporting it by becoming a co-sponsor. Go here for congressional contact information.
The first hurdle, however, is getting this bill out of the House Judiciary Committee, where it is likely to die unless you act now. Here is a list of committee members and their contact information. Give them a ring. If you live in their district, even better, but if not, just briefly explain your interest. A letter, of course, is always most effective.
Hold them accountable? Yes we can!