« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - An argument for impeachment

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) You've never heard me call for the impeachment of a U.S. President. Until now.

The President of the United States simply cannot ignore the law. Releasing five Taliban prisoners from our detention center at Guantanamo Bay was illegal. The law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama says Congress must have 30-days notice before any prisoner transfer. The President ignored that. The prisoner exchange that gave Sgt Bowe Bergdahl his freedom happened first; Congress was told after.

This is different than the President making unilateral changes on Obamacare or releasing illegal immigrants from detention facilities. Those are skeleton laws. Congress ceded most of its lawmaking power to the Health and Human Services Secretary on healthcare. All of those passages that read "...as the Secretary shall allow" are moving targets. The courts are likely to give the President wide latitude in how to implement a complex law where things quickly became more complicated than expected. The same with illegal immigrants. We don't have the resources to prosecute every case. Some people might be detained for a very long time awaiting deportation. As much as I disagree with it, the courts would likely decide the President has the power to prioritize. Dream Act teenagers can stay. Families won't be broken up. A different President with different priorities would act differently. I find all of this disingenuous, but it's probably not illegal.

The prisoner swap is different. The law is unambiguous. 30 days Congressional notice. Period. And that law has a distinct purpose. It was passed because the Obama Administration was flirting with the idea of holding civilian trials for Gitmo terrorists in federal court in New York. There was so much outrage that Congress passed this law so we wouldn't wake up one morning to find out that a hardened terrorist had been transferred from Cuba to Manhattan for a preliminary hearing that afternoon. And the President, while approving the bill because it was politically untenable to appear weak on terrorism, issued a signing statement suggesting that he didn't really have to obey the 30-day requirement.

There's no federal department or agency for President Obama to hide behind here. This was a prisoner swap that was OK'ed directly from the White House. And the talking points 24-hours later indicate that there was full awareness of the 30-day requirement. Here is how the Washington Post reported it on Sunday: " A senior administration official, agreeing to speak on the condition of anonymity to explain the timing of the congressional notification, acknowledged that the law was not followed. When he signed the law last year, Obama issued a signing statement contending that the notification requirement was an unconstitutional infringement on his powers as commander in chief and that he therefore could override it. Due to a near-term opportunity to save Sergeant Bergdahl's life, we moved as quickly as possible, the official said. The administration determined that given these unique and exigent circumstances, such a transfer should go forward notwithstanding the notice requirement ."

Everyone who serves in the U.S. military knows there is a possibility that they'll be caught and held by our enemies. (This assumes that Sgt Bowe Bergdahl did not walk away from his post, at the price of six military lives who tried to locate and save him.) And there are limits to what we will give to retrieve our POWs. We wouldn't agree to surrender territory or give out classified intelligence to win a release. And Congress intended that the hardened terrorists at Gitmo not be moved as political or military bargaining chips. That was the express purpose of the 30-day law that Barack Obama willfully broke.

The President has violated the oath of his office: to faithfully execute the laws of the United States of America. The cure for this kind of breech is impeachment. Surely Congress won't. But they should. It is the only possible check on this extra-Constitutional presidency.

Chris Conley
6.2.14

Image: President Barack Obama faces reporters in the State Dining Room after meeting with BP executives about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, at the White House in Washington, June 16, 2010.REUTERS/LARRY DOWNING via wsau.com.