In early June, a much-awaited Senate committee report formally concluded what had already become common wisdom: that President Bush and members of his Administration made false claims about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in order to build a public case for war.
These are grounds for impeachment, some argue–adding that it’s not too late. Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced thirty-five articles of impeachment against President Bush on June 9, accusing the President of war crimes and deceiving the public.
But famed prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, foreshadowing the Senate committee report with much of the same damning evidence, argues in a new book that Bush “deserves much more than impeachment”–a penalty he considers incommensurate with the crimes committed. In The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, the New York Times bestselling author and prosecutor lays out the legal case for prosecuting President Bush in a US courtroom after he leaves office.
Bugliosi writes, “4000 young Americans decomposing in their grave today died for George Bush and Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.” His book is not only a scathing indictment of the President and his Administration but also a blueprint for holding him criminally accountable. Bugliosi accuses Bush of taking the nation to war in Iraq under deliberately false pretenses and thus holds him culpable for thousands of subsequent deaths, detailing in The Prosecution the legal basis for such a case and laying out what he argues is the requisite evidence for a murder conviction.
While at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, Bugliosi successfully prosecuted twenty-one murder convictions without a single loss, most famously that of serial murderer Charles Manson. He also penned a number of best-selling true-crime books, including Helter Skelter and Outrage.
The Nation spoke to Bugliosi in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles about his new book and the political challenges of bringing its title trial to realization.
You begin your book by acknowledging its controversial premise and the difficulty people will have with the argument, as you lay it out, that George Bush should be put on trial for the murder of the nearly 4,000 American soldiers who’ve died fighting the war in Iraq. What do you think is so contentious about the idea of prosecuting a President, past or present, for murder?
The average American instinctively feels without having read my book that if an American President takes his nation to war under any circumstances, he can’t be prosecuted for murder. Related to that, people find it very hard to believe that an American President would engage in conduct that is so extremely criminal. You just don’t expect that of a President.
Americans just can’t believe an American President would engage in conduct that smacks of such criminality, and thus the whole notion of taking the President to court for murder is a revolutionary one.
In order to make the legal case for murder the prosecution, you write, would have to show that George Bush had a criminal state of mind–in legal terms, “malice aforethought”–when he led the country to war. That strikes me as no easy task. Can you explain how exactly you would go about arguing such a mindset?
To satisfy the main elements of murder–murder being an unlawful killing of a human being with the requisite state of mind–the following question would have to be answered: Did George Bush, or did he not, take the nation to war in self-defense, as he claimed, as a pre-emptive strike? Bush said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was therefore an imminent threat to security of the country, so we had to pre-emptively go to war against him. If the prosecutor can show that President Bush did not take the country to war in self-defense but instead under false pretenses, then all the killings that have taken place would be unlawful killings, and therefore murder.
Without getting into legal complexities and technicalities, which I do in the book, let me give you just one example of the kind of evidence that could be used to make just such an argument. In President Bush’s first speech to the nation, on October 7, 2002, from Cincinnati, he told the American people that Saddam Hussein was great danger to our nation, either by Hussein attacking us with WMDs, or by giving these weapons to a terrorist group to do so. Bush said this attack could happen on “any given day,” meaning that the threat was imminent. The only big problem for Bush in a trial is that on October 1, just six days earlier, the CIA sent Bush its 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, a classified, top-secret report, that represented the consensus opinion of all sixteen US intelligence agencies on the issue of whether or not Hussein was an imminent threat to the security of this country. On page 8, it clearly and unequivocally says… that Hussein was not an imminent threat to the security of this country; that he would only be a threat to us if he feared that America was about to attack him. So we know–not think, but know–that when George Bush told the nation on the evening of October 7, 2002, that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to the security of the nation, he was telling millions of unsuspecting Americans the exact opposite of what his own CIA was telling him. Even if we have nothing else at all, this alone shows that Bush took this nation to war on a terrible lie, and therefore all the killings of American soldiers in Iraq were unlawful killings and therefore murder.
You call the hypothetical case you’ve just laid out a case of “first impression”–a case for which there is no legal precedent. What are the implications for such a trial, if it were ever to be held, for American politics and American democracy?
What it does is tell future Presidents in no uncertain terms that if they commit a horrendous crime, they can be held accountable, just like any other private citizen.
There is no murder statute at the state or federal level that says it only applies to certain people–not Presidents, or golf pros or hair stylists. It applies to everyone. And there is no statute that says murder has to take place in a certain place, and not a battlefield. So President Bush has no immunity from prosecution.
No other American President has been prosecuted for any crime–there’s no history of it. That doesn’t mean they can’t be. The closest we came to it was in 1974, when Nixon resigned and there was a great demand that he be prosecuted for the crimes he committed while he was in office–obstruction of justice, wiretapping, perjury. The threat of this was so real that President Ford stepped in and pardoned him. I think that was closest we ever came. Clinton was tried in the Senate and acquitted. I’m talking about putting George Bush in an American courtroom, where next door someone might be on trial for killing a liquor store owner. He cannot be charged as a war criminal because the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction here, so it would have to be an American courtroom.
At this very moment, in fact, there is a documentary being produced for the big screen based on my book. And the filmmakers are about to reach out to prosecutors throughout the land to find a prosecutor willing to prosecute George Bush. So what I’m talking about here is very real. I’ve established jurisdiction in this book for prosecutors on a state or federal level to go after President Bush. With the literally hundreds of prosecutors out there and the powerful evidence of guilt I’ve set out, it’s hard to believe there’s not at least one prosecutor, maybe more, courageous enough to say this is America, and in America no man is above the law.
I’ve also drafted a letter to DAs across the country offering my services. I’m dead serious about this. With my record as a prosecutor with twenty-one consecutive murder convictions, I would never in a million years argue for a prosecution against the President of the United States unless I knew I was standing on firm and strong legal grounds.
I’m going after Bush and I’m not going to be satisfied until I see him in an American courtroom prosecuted for murder.
You are, of course, famous for your prosecution of Charles Manson, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who was found guilty of conspiracy to commit the Tate-LaBianca murders. What similarities, if any, would you expect to encounter in preparation for the trial of President George Bush compared with someone like Charles Manson?
Well, with Manson we’re talking about seven murders. With Bush it’s hundreds of thousands. But in a general way I’d prosecute the cases similarly, even though there are great differences. Neither Bush nor Manson participated in the act, physically, of murder. So in both cases I’m going after someone who didn’t themselves commit the act. But both, in their leadership, can be argued to hold responsibility through the rule of conspiracy for the deaths of innocents.
It has to be said, you also just seem to really hate George Bush. You state that your aim in writing this book is not political, and yet there is a palpable anger, which you admit to, that comes across powerfully in certain passages. For example, you call Bush a “spoiled, callous brat who became President only because of his father’s good name” and Rove a “pasty, weak-faced, and mean spirited political criminal.” Where does this anger come from?
The anger is based on one thing, and one thing only. These people deliberately and knowingly took this nation to war under false pretenses, and therefore they are murderers. I don’t like to see anyone get away with murder, never mind over 100,000 murders. O.J. Simpson got away with two murders, and I was outraged, so I wrote a book about it. I do not like people who commit murder.
In the [Scott] McLellan book which just came out, he called the war in Iraq a serious strategic blunder. A blunder is a mistake, and people who make mistakes are innocent and not guilty. George Bush, I believe and I argue, is guilty.