A congressional committee has heard testimony about the case for impeachment of President Bush. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, while majority Democrats have ruled out formal impeachment efforts, they approved the public hearing to examine limitations on presidential powers and arguments about what constitute impeachable offenses.

Critics say President Bush and Vice President Cheney should be impeached because of a range of alleged legal and constitutional abuses.

The list includes administration justifications to Congress and Americans for the war in Iraq, authorization of secret electronic surveillance, approval of harsh interrogation techniques, and defiance of congressional subpoenas.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a former Democratic presidential candidate, introduced formal impeachment resolutions in the House of Representatives, listing numerous actions by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and appeared as a witness at Friday's hearing:

"The decision before us is whether Congress will endorse with its silence the methods used to take us into the Iraq war. The decision before us is whether to demand accountability for one of the gravest injustices imaginable. The decision before us is whether Congress will stand up to tell future presidents that America has seen the last of these injustices, not the first," he said.

Since Democrats took control of Congress two years ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has drawn sharp criticism from within her party for refusing to endorse formal impeachment proceedings against the president.

Although Kucinich presented his resolutions on the House floor, each was turned back to the House Judiciary Committee.

Two committee Republicans asserted that the Friday event amounted to a formal impeachment hearing. Panel chairman John Conyers had this exchange with Iowa Republican Steven King:

"KING: These are impeachment hearings before the U.S. Congress. I never imagined I would ever be sitting on this side when something like this happened.

CONYERS: To the regret of many, this is not an impeachment hearing. To have an impeachment hearing, the House of Representatives has to vote to authorize that a committee begin an inquiry, and that has not taken place yet."

Republican Lamar Smith asserted there is no basis on which impeachment can be pursued, and accused Democrats of playing political games. "Nothing is going to come out of this hearing with regard to impeachment of the president. I know it, the media knows it, and the [House] speaker knows it. The Democratic leadership has said time and again they have no intention of bringing any impeachment resolution for the president or the vice president to the House floor. Why is that? It is because they know it won't pass. That is because there is no evidence to support impeachment."

Stephen Presser of Northwestern University School of Law, asserted there has been no proof that President Bush put his own interests over those of the nation. "For a president to be impeached, he must have committed some grave offense that is contrary to his oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of his country. He must put his interests above the Constitution and the laws," he said.

Jeremy Rabkin, Professor of Law at George Mason University, asserts that any impeachment effort would be unwise. "To put everything on to the somebody must pay for mistakes and impeachment is the way is to make the country ungovernable," he said.

Bruce Fein, a former Associate Deputy U.S. Attorney General and one of the first constitutional legal scholars to call for impeachment, was joined by Vincent Bugliosi, a former Los Angeles County Prosecutor:

"FEIN: The Executive Branch has vandalized the Constitution every bit as much as the barbarians sacked Rome in 410 A.D. The Executive Branch has destroyed the constitution's time honored checks and balanced [and] taken the nation perilously close to executive despotism.

BUGLIOSI: Whether Republican or Democrat, all Americans should be absolutely outraged by what this administration has done. How dare they do what they have done. How dare they!"

Also testifying were Bob Barr and Elizabeth Holtzman, former Republican and Democratic members of Congress:

"HOLTZMAN: The only remedy and that is the one the framers gave to the Congress of the U.S., the House and the Senate, is the remedy of impeachment because no one can interfere with it.

BARR: If we don't get a handle on this now, in some form or fashion, the next administration and the one after that, regardless of party, will take these abuses, these powers, these liberties with the fundamental institutions of our government, and take them to even higher and higher levels."

Frederick Schwarz, of New York University's School of Law, says any impeachment effort at this stage would be too late and politically divisive, but recommends creation of a bipartisan investigative commission. "I recommend that the Congress and the new president sign a bill that sets up an independent nonpartisan and bipartisan investigatory commission that will look at what has been done wrong, look at what has been done right, and recommend remedies for things that have been done wrong," he said.

Elliott Adams represented the anti-war organization Veterans for Peace. "When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they were not worried about political will or about how much time there was or about what parties might effect their political future. They were just worried that they were going to be hanged by the neck, yet they did the right thing. Now gentlemen it is your time to stand up," he said.

Congressman Conyers, at the urging of panel Republicans, repeatedly admonished anti-Bush demonstrators not to interrupt the public hearing. Prominent administration and Iraq war critic Cindy Sheehan was expelled from the room at one point.