By David Swanson
One of the best features of a visit to Los Angeles is the opportunity to hang out with the guy who put Charles Manson in prison, the most successful criminal prosecutor we’re ever likely to see, Vince Bugliosi (105 convictions in 106 felony jury trials, 21 convictions in 21 murder trials). I spoke with him on Tuesday about his forthcoming documentary film (pre-order DVD here http://www.indiegogo.com/bush ).
I consider Vince a friend, an ally, and a hero, but we don’t see eye to eye on everything. I oppose the death penalty and all manifestations of revenge. I’m an atheist. I think the United States had a pretty darn horrible government before George W. Bush even came on the scene and that war lies have been a proud tradition of ours for centuries. I see strategic advantage in pushing for accountability from underlings and for less than the most severe charges. Vince disagrees to various degrees on each of these points.
I don’t object to Vince’s choice to focus exclusively on one thing, because what he is focused on is one of the most important things anyone could. He is seeking to prosecute George W. Bush for the murder of the U.S. soldiers he sent into war on false pretenses. Vince has written three New York Times #1 bestseller books, so he expected his latest “The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder” to do well. It has, in fact, sold nearly 100,000 copies. But that is a shocking disappointment to its author.
The difference with this book was that the corporate media completely whited it out. There has not been a single review in a major newspaper (although the New York Times published an article about the lack of coverage). And Bugliosi has not been put on national television to talk about this book, as he was with his other books. So, his publisher has been thrilled with the sales that have been generated through the independent media.
Vince told me he thought a blackout like the one of his book would not happen in any other country except perhaps Russia. His topic, an illegal war on Iraq based on lies and the need to hold a former president accountable, is not discussed in the corporate media or even much by independent sources any more. It was a hot topic in 2005 and 2006, but the Democrats in Congress dropped it in 2007 when they obtained the power to do something about it. Vince has been flabbergasted by this every time I’ve talked to him for years now:
“How is it possible for George W. Bush to take this nation to war on false pretenses with the cataclysmic results that there have been, and America does absolutely nothing about it – How is that possible?”
I asked Vince if there was anything people could compel Congress to do that would help in any way. He said that a congressional committee had made a criminal referral to the Department of Justice which was now investigating whether baseball pitcher Roger Clemons had committed perjury when he testified that he hadn’t used steroids. Bugliosi suggests, rather reasonably, that an apparent case of lying the nation into war should be similarly referred for prosecution. He made this same suggestion in his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last July.
Why does this not happen? In Vince’s analysis, “the Democratic Party is much too civilized. They’re not fighters like the shrill and strident Republicans.”
Vince has spoken to large crowds around the country about his book. The forthcoming documentary, making the same case as the book, is built largely around a speech Bugliosi made at UCLA Law School. Also included in the film is footage of my friends Carlos and Melida Arredondo who lost their son Alex in the Iraq War. Another survivor shown in the film is Jane Bright who lost her son and expresses the guilt she feels for not having been there to stop a rocket from hitting him. She holds no ill will toward the Iraqi who shot the rocket who, she says, was just doing his job: “George Bush murdered my son.”
The film is still a work in progress, but a rough cut was shown to a group in Los Angeles last week, not a group of peace activists, but not necessarily a strictly representative sample of the country either. For what its worth, over 90 percent of the viewers said they would definitely urge their friends to see it, and the rest said they probably would. Just as torture photos move Americans much more powerfully than written evidence of torture, the passion of the film may have an impact that reaches much further than the book. Footage of bloodshed in Iraq is juxtaposed with footage of Bush joking about WMDs, intended to show Bush’s lack of interest in honesty, as well as footage of Bush enjoying himself, intended to encourage the hatred that Bugliosi feels.
I asked Vince, as I always do, to explain his targeting of Bush for killing American soldiers who participated, but not innocent Iraqis who did not. Vince said that Bush was clearly guilty of the deaths of Iraqis (he STILL uses the outrageously low figure of 100,000 dead Iraqis in order to not overstate it). However, Vince explains, he was not able to establish jurisdiction in America for trying Bush for those murders.
I asked why it is that the highest laws of our land cannot be enforced. The Constitution makes treaties, like the UN Charter, the supreme law of the land, but unless there’s a corresponding statute in the U.S. Code there’s nothing a prosecutor can do. Vince’s explanation was that, sadly, that’s just the way it is. So I asked whether he would approve of the International Criminal Court developing the jurisdiction to prosecute the crime of aggressive war, and/or approve of Congress legislating criminal penalties for the same crime. In the case of Congress, Bugliosi expressed concern that the creation of such a new law (which could not be used against Bush’s past crimes due to the Constitution’s ban on ex post facto laws) might be used to argue that heretofore the activity has been legal.
Bugliosi explained that the biggest obstacle he’s faced with his book has been the assumption by all sorts of people (he mentions Jerry Brown, once and perhaps future governor of California, as an example) that it’s simply not possible to prosecute a president for a war. But, Vince says, every single person who has argued that has admitted that they have not yet read his book.
I asked Bugliosi whether Jay Bybee’s October 23, 2002, memo purporting to legalize aggressive wars, could make him complicit in murder. The question, Bugliosi said, would be one of proving that Bybee knew what he was writing to be false. There are a million things I know I could never do, but I think I could persuade a jury on this one with no sleep, no breakfast, and a ban on using words with the letter ‘E’ in them. I have no doubt that Bugliosi could do it in a brief afternoon.
I asked Bugliosi what he would think if the Department of Justice were to indict Bush for the felonies of misleading Congress and making false statements to Congress. Bugliosi’s response was what it has been before: “That’s such small potatoes.” Vince would be glad to include those charges as one count of an indictment, but only if another count was murder. The punishment for lying to Congress is far too low, he thinks, and — says Bugliosi — presidents lie to Congress all the time. (He acknowledged that while I think they do this about wars all the time, he thinks they do it only about other topics.)
We also talked about Pakistan and what we are doing there, in particular with drones. Bugliosi said that the killing there could certainly be murder, regardless of whether it’s a war or what we call it.
And we talked about the just-opened investigation of Iraq war lies in England. “I’m impressed with England,” said Bugliosi. “Their nation is not in the decline that America is. I salute them for what they’re doing. If there’s a prosecution of George W. Bush in the United States, and if I’m involved, several of those witnesses would be asked to testify, including Manning and Dearlove.”
What about Blair? Has Tony Blair committed murder? We discussed this for a while. Vince stressed that his focus has been on Bush. The question of whether Blair is guilty, Vince said, comes down to whether he lied to the British people in taking them to war. We discussed areas where it looked like Blair had lied. Bugliosi pointed to the Downing Street Minutes in which the attorney general of the UK (Goldsmith) tells Blair that his planned war has no legal basis:
“The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.”
Bugliosi decided that the more he talked about it the more he would find Blair deserving of prosecution, but that Blair’s responsibility did not compare to Bush’s.
Get this DVD for everyone you know: http://www.indiegogo.com/bush
David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book