Impeachment not our business, council says

Majority declines to support resolution asking Congress to act

After listening to some 20 of his fellow Chicoans explain why they wanted Congress to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney, Councilman Larry Wahl, a former Navy fighter pilot who served in Vietnam, had a blunt reply.

“We’re at war, folks, with a bunch of Islamofascist extremists who want us dead or back in the ninth century,” he declaimed, adding emphatically that he supported the president and vice president in the war on terrorism.

But Wahl wasn’t the only veteran in council chambers Tuesday night (Aug. 19). Michael Pike, a former Green Beret captain who served in Vietnam and Laos, also spoke, and he gave a first-hand account of why he believed impeachment was appropriate.

As part of his Special Forces training, to prepare him in the event he was captured, he was waterboarded—twice. “I can tell you it was the most terrible thing I’ve ever gone through,” Pike said. He was willing to climb a 10-foot barbed-wire fence that shredded his hands rather than go through it again. He said he’d also been subjected to electroshock, and waterboarding was worse.

The U.S. government’s use of torture such as waterboarding was one of the reasons a group calling itself the Chico Impeach Team approached the council, presented it with petitions containing more than 1,000 signatures, and asked it to support a resolution calling on Congress to initiate impeachment. Several California cities—including Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Arcata and, naturally, Berkeley—have passed similar resolutions.

The Bush administration, with its warrantless wiretapping, suspension of habeas corpus, deceitful war-mongering, preemptive invasion of a sovereign nation (Iraq), secret “black sites” and use of torture, has shredded the Constitution and broken both American and international law, speakers charged.

In an initial PowerPoint presentation, Bill Donnelly, representing the Chico Impeach Team, argued that impeachment is a local issue because councilmembers take an oath of office to defend the Constitution. The Bush administration has put the Constitution in danger, and the council had a duty to act, he insisted.

Another speaker, Greg Hubbell, said the resolution was needed to restore America’s reputation in the world. And Donna Cook said, “If we aren’t protected by laws, then we have no protection.”

Sue Hilderbrand, director of the Chico Peace and Justice Center, said that, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, she saw how the rest of the world “looks to us as a beacon of light and democracy. … But that democracy is fragile if people do not participate and hold our leaders accountable.”

She reminded the council that impeachment “is an investigation, not a declaration of guilt.” It was necessary, she said, “to clear the air” about the actions of the Bush administration.

Three speakers said they were opposed to the resolution. Cynthia van Auken, who’s running for council, charged the effort was meant only to discredit the Bush administration and noted that “the baton was soon to be passed in the relay of democracy.”

Rob Raman said he didn’t like Bush but thought the City Council wasn’t an appropriate forum, and Ernie Spears pointed out that the city has its own issues to deal with.

Two councilmembers, Mary Flynn and Vice Mayor Ann Schwab, were absent from the meeting on work business, and it’s interesting to speculate on how they might have come down on this issue. As it was, though, four of their five male colleagues agreed that the council wasn’t the right forum for this national issue.

Mayor Andy Holcombe said that, while he supported the resolution as an individual ("I almost want to cry for the anguish this country is going through,” he said), he didn’t know how all Chicoans felt about impeachment and therefore couldn’t support taking council action on it. Councilman Tom Nickell took the same position.

Councilman Steve Bertagna said he didn’t support the resolution either as an individual or as a councilmember. “I was elected to take care of the city’s business,” he insisted.

The lone councilmember to support the resolution was Scott Gruendl. Interestingly, he said he had no personal opinion on the issue. His only wish was to support local citizens who wanted his help.

Following the vote, during the public-comment portion of the council meeting, local nurse practitioner and activist Paul O’Rourke-Babb responded to Wahl’s “Islamofascist” comment, arguing there were no terrorists in Iraq before the U.S. invaded the country.