To Support and Defend: A Message to US Senators and Representatives
January 24, 2009 – “I, Phillip Neal Butler, having been appointed a Midshipman in the United States Navy, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter, so help me God.” (Oath of Office, July 1, 1957.)
Upon graduation from the United States Naval Academy in 1961, I had the honor of repeating this oath to be commissioned an ensign in the United States Navy. I served 20 years as an active duty commissioned officer. During that time, I became a naval aviator, flew combat in Vietnam, was downed over North Vietnam on April 20, 1965, and became a prisoner of war. I was repatriated on February 12, 1973, having served 2,855 days and nights as a POW – just short of eight years. The Vietnamese were not signatories to any international treaties on treatment of prisoners. They pronounced us “criminals” and freely used torture, harassment, malnutrition, isolation, lack of medical care, and other degradations during our captivity. I was tortured dozens of times during my captivity. But I often thought of our Constitution and the higher purpose we served – a purpose that helped me resist beyond what I thought I’d ever be capable of. Ironically, we POWs often reminded each other “that our country would never stoop to torture and the low level of treatment we were experiencing at the hands of our captors.”
This Oath of Office, the same one sworn to by all officers, government officials, presidential cabinet members, senators and representatives of our nation, has had a powerful effect on me. It has given me an over-arching purpose in life: to serve the greatest and most influential legal document ever written. The only different oath is specified for the president of the United States in Constitution Article II, Section 1 (8.) It mandates that he or she will “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.”
So, what in the world has happened during the past eight years of the George W. Bush administration? The only defensible answer is that he and his subordinates have trampled our precious Constitution and the rule of law into the ground, while our elected members of Congress have stood idly and complicitly by. Our highest elected officials have utterly failed in their duty of greatest responsibility.
During these years, we have seen gross attempts to institutionalize torture. Our Constitution, Article VI, (2), commonly known as the “Supremacy” clause, clearly states that treaties made shall become “the supreme law of the land,” thus elevating them to the level of constitutional law.
The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, ratified in 1949, states in Article 17, “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.” This and numerous other ratified treaties clearly stipulate that “prisoners” is an inclusive term that is not limited to any nation’s uniformed combatants.
Other gross Bush administration crimes, in addition to authorizing torture, of general and constitutional law include: 1) the use of “signing statements” to illegally refrain from complying with laws, 2) authorization of the illegal suspension of Habeas Corpus, 3) authorization of wire tapping and other intrusive methods to illegally spy on American citizens, 4) unilateral declaration and pre-emptive conduct of war in violation of US Constitution Article I, Section 8 (11).
These violations of our Constitution and rule of law have resulted in reducing our nation to the level of international pariah. Our beacon of liberty and justice no longer shines throughout the world. We no longer set the example for other nations to follow. We no longer stand on a firm foundation. We have lost our national, moral gyro.
I despair when I think of the personal sacrifices made by so many in US wars and conflicts since 1776. If our forefathers were here to see, they would surely be angry and disappointed. And I think they would issue a clarion call for redress and setting an example for the world by punishing those who are guilty. The only way our nation can right itself is for Congress to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes.
I, therefore, call on my elected representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives to bring criminal charges against President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, legal counsel William J. Haynes, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former legal counsel David Addington, and potentially other high officials and uniformed officers. There is no other option if you are to carry out your responsibilities. Citizens of the United States and of the world are watching you. Do your duty. Support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Note: This article was written for and at the request of Sen. John Kerry, to use as leverage with his Senate colleagues.