Byzantine Reality

Searching for Byzantine failures in the world around us

The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder

Today’s read is something quite outside the norm of what I normally talk about. It came to me through one of my favorite podcasts, Common Sense with Dan Carlin. Dan caters to all sides of the political spectrum (and by his accounts he’s infuriated all of them repeatedly over the years), and on a recent show he had on Vincent Bugliosi. Most of his work is before my time, but he is well known for prosecuting the Charles Manson case and has a nearly flawless legal record (the book cites him as winning 105/106 felony jury trials). On this day he was on for legal reasons, but not about somebody you normally hear about being prosecuted for murder:

On the whole, the book is pretty solid. It’s essentially broken down into three parts: why this isn’t as crazy an idea as it sounds on the surface, how the evidence stacks up, and supplementary material. That being said, there is a ton of supplementary material (mostly just stuff that didn’t make it into the regular part of the book) and provides lots of little side points to add to the case. Most of the side points are not as interesting but there are two or three points that are several pages long and are well worth the read.

The beginning of the book addresses why this is a legitimate task, while the second part addresses why we need to do this. I won’t reveal too much of the book for you, since it’s good enough where you should check it out on your own, but the idea is basically this:

It the President of the United States above the law?

Apparently this is a difficult question, because when I was growing up I was always taught that nobody was above the law and even though the President enjoys certain powers, he’s no better off than you or I as far as the law goes.

Let’s move on to Bugliosi himself. He is a fantastic writer. The book is a quick read and is very engaging, and the evidence he sets forward is hard to argue with. The lion’s share of the arguments against him on the Common Sense message board are not against the evidence he presents, but are in fact mostly personal attacks. Even when Dan tells his audience that Bugliosi isn’t a random nutjob out there and has a very distinguished record, his detractors seem to have a hard time attacking his evidence, which I think means a lot.

That being said, the book isn’t perfect. The evidence is spot-on, as I’ve already said. But the book is about prosecuting GWB for murder and thus I expected it to be very cold and emotionless. They aren’t necessarily great qualities for a book to have but it’s just the first thing to come to mind when I think “legal”. This book is certainly NOT that. It’s very emotionally engaging and I do appreciate the parts where he reminds us that real people have died in Iraq and shares their stories with us. Americans don’t really care too much about Iraq any more (especially with the economy looming over us) and I think the reminder is a good one.

However, it gets a little off when Bugliosi attacks GWB directly. I understand where he’s coming from; if I had to explain WHY GWB took us to war in Iraq all the answers would be less than pretty as far as GWB goes, especially given the evidence shown the book. But I don’t think this book should explain WHY GWB took us to war in Iraq, since it’s clearly all speculation. Furthermore, I feel it brings down the book as a whole since the legal part is spotless anything else tends to bring it down.

But this is really just nitpicking. The book is great and you should certainly buy it. It’s apparently been out for quite some time and I found a great deal on it on Amazon. If you’re still not convinced, check out Bugliosi at the House Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Limits of Executive Power:

P.S. How does one find out the results of a hearing like this? The transcripts are all online but there’s no indication of the actions they’re going to take and it makes it sound like literally they heard both sides of the case and maybe they will consider doing something about it (and since this hearing was last year they obviously did nothing about it). It would be interesting to know this in case other hearing look interesting down the line.