Last November more than 400 American historians placed a full-page ad in the New York Times. Calling themselves Historians in Defense of the Constitution, they fiercely opposed the impeachment of the president. Organized by professors Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and the James Carville of academia, Sean Wilentz, the historians claimed that if the president were convicted, the presidency would be "permanently disfigured," thereby "undermining the Constitution."
People for the American Way tells me it acted as a facilitator for the concerned historians, getting a public relations firm to further spread their urgent warning to Congress and the nation. Also, it enabled the list price of the ad, $75,948, to be reduced to $56,000.
I recognize some of the signers of the ad as expert chroniclers of the framing of the Constitution. Reading them through the years, I had learned that one cannot know with certainty what precisely the Framers meant by "high crimes and misdemeanors." Yet in that ad, these scholars instructed us unequivocally that they did indeed know the real meaning of those crucial words.
Maybe, I thought, even these distinguished academics were so fearful of Republicans taking over the White House and the Supreme Court that they shaded their previous interpretations for the greater good of the nation.
Not widely known, however, is that more than 240 American historians have come forth with a call for impeachment -- on different grounds.
The new petition declares: "Impeach Bill Clinton for the Right Reasons: Not for Lewinsky, but Rather for the Illegal Bombing of Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan." This proposed indictment was first circulated during the Jan. 7-10 meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington.
Subsequently, the petition was published in the Nation and In These Times as well as on various Web sites on the continually churning Internet. According to one of the originators, Jesse Lemisch -- a professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at New York's City University -- additional historians as well as social scientists and graduate students keep coming aboard. He welcomes more.
At that January meeting of the American Historical Association, the signers of the new petition made clear that they "strongly oppose the removal of Bill Clinton for the offenses for which he is on trial in the Senate." But they argue that he has so abused his presidential powers in the bombing of those countries that he should be removed from office.
The petition cites a violation of the War Powers Clause of the Constitution (Article I, Section 8). Although Congress "shall have Power to . . . declare War," Clinton only marginally consulted a few of its leaders and did not go through the required stages of meaningful consultation as mandated by the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
Also violated, according to these historians, was Executive Order 12.333, Sec. 2-305, which prohibits assassination or conspiracy to assassinate human foreign targets.
That executive order, issued by President Gerald Ford in 1975, says: "No person employed by, or acting on behalf of the United States Government, shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination."
Following the August raid on Afghanistan, administration officials denied for months that a purpose of the bombing was to kill alleged master terrorist Osama bin Laden. However, when the CIA determined that bin Laden would be at a camp in Afghanistan, more than 70 cruise missiles were aimed at him and his colleagues in that very camp.
In the Nov. 14 New York Times, reporter James Risen quoted Defense Secretary William Cohen as saying that the United States had been "going after" bin Laden and his associates. The lead to Risen's story declared: "One of the clear but unstated objectives of last August's raid on Afghanistan was to kill Osama bin Laden and as many of his associates as possible, Administration officials now acknowledge."
The Times report cited various administration legal rationalizations for "going after" bin Laden, including the "any means necessary" provision of the 1996 anti-terrorism act. Why, then, did the Clinton administration deny for months that the bombing was intended to kill bin Laden?
Though not explicit in the historians' January petition, it has been widely conjectured that the bombing raids on all those countries were ordered by the president primarily to distract attention from his travails in Congress.
Meanwhile, an American air and missile strike on Feb. 25 attacked targets 30 miles from downtown Baghdad, and the Iraqi government claims that once again civilians were killed. Innocent civilians.