The president and the M-word
Manson prosecutor offers reasoned, impassioned call to try Bush for murder
(Now that the book has been adapted for a new documentary (with a title change, "The Prosecution of an American President"), I'm posting this 2008 review of the book. Bugliosi is a stern moralist and a thoughtful proponent of legal remedies for wrongdoing, wherever he sees it. -- SR, 10-22-14)
From the title of this best seller, "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder," you might expect — either in delight or fear — an anti-Bush screed taken to the nth power. After all, even in the land of the First Amendment, you don't often get books from reputable publishers (Perseus Publishing) speculating on whether the sitting president deserves to face execution for actions in office.
And "The Prosecution of George W. Bush For Murder" most certainly is anti-Bush. Vincent Bugliosi's thesis is that Bush should be tried for conspiracy to commit murder over his misstatements (lies, in Bugliosi's eyes) that created the pretext for the 2003 Iraq invasion.And Vice President Dick Cheney and now-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could be co-conspirators, as might other past and present administration figures.
Yet while this is an angry book, it isn't a screed. It is knowledgeable about how the law works. That's largely due to Bugliosi's credentials. As the tough L.A. prosecutor responsible for Charles Manson's conviction, he knows his stuff. After writing the now-classic "Helter Skelter" about the Manson case, Bugliosi has made a career out of topical nonfiction, including a book criticizing the Supreme Court decision to make Bill Clinton go to trial, while president, in Paula Jones' lawsuit.
So "Prosecution" is intellectually lively; it tries to persuade rather than just harangue
It would be an understatement to say Bugliosi doesn't much like Bush, as president or person. He finds W. an abomination to the country and American values, and he bitingly dissects the man's character traits and leadership qualities. You might recognize some of his observations, particularly about the way Bush kept reading a children's book in a Florida classroom when informed about 9/11, from Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11." In fact, Bugliosi criticizes Moore for being too easy on Bush.
Basically, the misstatements that Bugliosi wants to take Bush to trial for include the administration's claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and supported al-Qaeda. Bugliosi lays out in meticulous detail, citing previously reported sources, why he believes Bush had to know at the time his claims weren't true.
These accusations against Bush aren't in themselves so new. It's where Bugliosi goes with them that's so controversial. The murder victims, in his eyes, are the nearly 4,000 American soldiers who have died in Iraq. (The deaths of Iraqi citizens are outside U.S. prosecutorial jurisdiction, although Bugliosi believes Bush is morally culpable for them too.)
"The overriding assumption here has to be that if, in fact, Bush lied to the nation in taking it to war, we all should want to find some lawful way to bring him to justice," he writes. "That has to be the predisposition among all good men. It cannot be otherwise. I don't like to see anyone get away with murder, even one."
He also explains how a prosecutor could, with legal precedent, use those misstatements as evidence in a murder conspiracy case, because a defendant doesn't have to have actually pulled the trigger to be charged with that crime.
He says the best courtroom venue would be the District of Columbia, with the U.S. attorney general prosecuting. But a district attorney in any jurisdiction home to any American killed in Iraq could bring charges, he says. And there is no statute of limitations.
In the end, Bugliosi wants to forcibly inject a sense of fear and repentance — a conscience, under the author's terms — into Bush. He figures this book's existence will somehow penetrate the president's consciousness; with that title, it's hard not to.
"The least I can do . . . is to put the thought in Bush's mind for the rest of his life that he may someday be held accountable in a criminal courtroom for all the murders he alone is responsible for."
This is one prosecutor who will not rest.
Steven Rosen is a freelance writer in Cincinnati.