Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Elizabeth Holtzman Speaks at UC Irvine

Gary Fouse

On March 13, 2012, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman gave a presentation at UC Irvine on the idea of impeaching / prosecuting George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  Since it was right next door, I popped in and amused myself.

Holtzman, a former DA of Kings County (Brooklyn) is hawking a book called "Cheating Justice- How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law. Plotted to Avoid Prosecution-and What We Can Do About it". She was introduced by the Dean of Student Services Elisabeth Schroeder, who met Holtzman in college and later worked for her when Holtzman was in the House of Representatives. Schoeder gave a bio on Holtzman and described how she defeated the incumbent representative, Emanuel Cellar, in the 1972 Democratic primaries. Schoeder described Celler as being unconnected with his constituents and their concerns.

Holtzman was a member of the House committee during the Nixon Watergate hearings. I remember watching her on TV. Although I firmly accept that Nixon was guilty of impeachable offenses and deserved to lose his office, I recall vividly that some members of the committee seemed to have made up their minds on Day One. One of them was Elizabeth Holtzman.

Anyway, after expressing her belief that everybody should be accountable under the law no matter what office they hold, Holtzman outlined her theory and reasons why George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should be brought to justice. "They broke the law", she said. "Not secretly, but in public".

Holtzman explained all the "lies" that Bush and Cheney told to the public and to Congress about Iraq in the run-up to the Iraq war . (She never told the audience that virtually every security and intelligence agency with whom we work had told the administration that Iraq had or was developing weapons of mass destruction).

"Why did Bush do this?" she asked? "Was it for oil? For his father? For re-election? We don't know", the former DA concluded. (Oh well, you don't need to prove motive, you know, but I would have said, "to protect the country from any future attacks after 9-11".)

Holtzman gave us laws and statutes that, in her view, had been broken (by Bush and Cheney).

First was a crime to defraud the US (by their "misrepresentation" of the need to attack Iraq). She quoted 18 USC 371.

This is 18 USC 371

Second was Foreign Intelligence Wiretaps violations.

Holtzman did not make the differentiation between ordinary criminal wiretaps that require a normal court order and national security wiretaps. She merely stated that Bush decided he didn't need to obey the law about getting court orders. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she was including the FISA court.

Third was mistreatment of detainees and violation of anti-torture statutes in accordance with the Geneva Convention and the War Crimes Act (1996).

Holtzmann stated that Bush and Cheney took us out of the Geneva Convention. (She later amended that to state in regards to the Taliban and Al Qaida.). She described the involvement of DOJ attorney John Yoo, who wrote a legal opinion that allowed them to get around torture. (Yoo's name was mentioned twice, and both times it brought chuckles from a few audience members.) She mentioned a memo that Bush received from Alberto Gonzalez advising him to get the US out of the Geneva Convention to reduce the "likelihood that we would be prosecuted later"( under the War Crimes Act of 1996).

So, according to Holtzman, it was a prima facie case that Bush and Cheney could be prosecuted, which I guess, is the thesis of her new book.

What was not mentioned in any of this was 9-11.


According to Holtzman, we need to revise the statute of limitations; we need a special prosecutor; and we need to  re-instate the War Crimes Act. In summary,  justice for all, rich and poor, no matter their position with no immunity for those who happen to be top officials.

Well, that sure sounded reasonable to me, so when Q and A came, I raised my hand and asked her why she didn't support impeachment for President Bill Clinton, when he committed perjury while in office. I told her that I seemed to recall her being interviewed about it, and  that she pooh-pooed the idea of impeaching Clinton.

"I still do," she answered then went on to state something to the effect that crime and impeachment were two different things. She began talking about how there was a move to impeach Nixon for tax evasion. At that point, I said that the question was about Clinton.

She didn't like that. Her voice rose; she pointed her finger at me and said, "I am answering it, but I will answer it in my own way".

According to her own way of answering the question, Holtzman seemed to draw a line on perjury because the impeachable office had to be an abuse of office. I guess that meant that perjury by a sitting president is not an abuse of office. So much for accountability.

When I asked for a follow-up, she cut me off with a curt, "No, you've had your question" (or something like that).

My feelings were hurt.

Another questioner asked if President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder should be impeached for having an American citizen killed in Yemen (Anwar al-Awlaki). Holtzman said that she had not studied that since her study was on Bush and Cheney, that she was troubled by it, but she couldn't answer that.

Another questioner wanted to know if Bush and Cheney could be brought to trial in a foreign court. To that Holtzman remarked that the "US is not playing an enlightened role in this area". She mentioned the example of Pinochet, who was brought to trial 27 years after he was violating human rights in Chile. She mentioned that Poland was investigating the secret prisons in its territory where detainees were taken. She  expressed the hope that actions abroad might wake us up (US).

Another questioner wanted to know if Bush and Cheney could be impeached even after leaving office. To that, Holtzman explained that their pensions could be taken away.

That was pretty much it since the event only lasted an hour. At that point the audience adjourned to another room to buy Holtzman's book. (I did not.)

Here is what I took away from this event. As I had always suspected, Holtzman has a partisan bent when it comes to impeachment. She's all gangbusters when it comes to Republicans, but not when it comes to Democrats. That is based on what I will call my 4 for 4 formula. Impeach Nixon and Bush? Yes. Impeach Clinton? No. Impeach Obama? "I don't know anything about it". Elizabeth Holtzman is quite selective in her outrage in my book.

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