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Jan/Feb 2009 Reviews & Interviews

Holding Bush to Account

The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder
by Vincent Bugliosi
Vanguard Press. 2008. 341 pp.
ISBN 159315528X.

Review by Dennis Kaplan


Buy now from Amazon! Everyone knows this guy: his style is to regale you with tales of his verbal triumphs, replete with self-congratulatory flourish: "That's what I told him, and afterwards you should have seen his face." Such is the tone of Vincent Bugliosi's latest offering, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, a book I dearly wanted to love.

How bad does it get? At one point, Mr. Bugliosi refers his readers to a head shot of George Bush and Karl Rove, inviting them to observe the character flaws evident right in the picture. At another point—the central photo section—we are presented with a succession of flag draped coffins and grieving loved ones, followed by pictures of Bush laughing. This shot is so jejune, so unbelievably below the expectations we might have for the author of Outrage and Helter Skelter, it even seems ridiculous to protest—to raise objections such as: might Roosevelt or Churchill have been caught laughing in the darkest moments of World War II? Would such a moment caught on celluloid be proof of anything at all?

Anyone could be excused for dismissing this book. But if you somehow survive to Chapter Four, hold onto your hat: what follows is the reason this book is worth toughing out, despite its abundant flaws. Here Bugliosi delineates his two major premises: the Iraq war was a deliberate deception, and, as such, it is a prosecutable crime. It is on the first point where he is at his most convincing. With diminished bombast (it is never entirely absent) Bugliosi takes us through each line of argument the Bush Administration offered to Congress and the public during the lead-up to the war. It is followed by an analysis of: 1) was it true? and 2) if not, would the administration have known this at the time they were making the case.

Some of what gets examined is:

Administration claim: October 7, 2002—in a major address on Iraq Bush warns the nation of the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein: "...unmanned aerial vehicles," "chemical or biological" weapons "...for missions targeting the United States" are cited.

Known at the time: On the same day that Bush delivered the speech, a letter from George Tenet was faxed to Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, stating, "Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CWB (chemical or biological weapons)." Essentially, Hussein would only attack if attacked first. Bush himself was briefed by Tenet on the same day the letter was faxed. Additionally, the identical conclusion, in slightly different words, was also contained in the classified National Intelligence Estimate, which would have been known to Bush at least six days before the time of the speech.

Administration Claim: January, 28, 2003—Bush's State of the Union message: Iraq attempted to purchase uranium in Africa. (The infamous 16 words.)

Known at the time: The allegations had already been discredited by the CIA. At least fourteen instances have been identified in which government agencies raised doubts about these claims prior to the 2003 speech. In his October speech (above) similar language had been removed in response to warnings from the CIA. Four days before the State of the Union Message, the CIA's National Intelligence Council sent a message to the White House reaffirming that the claim was baseless.

Administration claim: February 5, 2003—Colin Powell addresses the U.N. and refers to an Iraqi chemical engineer who was an eyewitness to the manufacture of biological agents.

Known at the time: The engineer was Rafid Ahmed Alwan, code name "Curveball." Alwan had been fired from his position and sought political asylum in Germany in 1999. German intelligence interviewed him and informed the CIA of his claims along with the caveat that they did not believe his information was reliable, and they considered him psychologically unstable. According to the Los Angeles Times, when the German intelligence officer in charge of Curveball's case heard Colin Powell stating Alawan's claims as fact "he was aghast."

At points you might be tempted to whisper "Wow." Unfortunately, Mr. Bugliosi spares you the trouble. That is, he literally prints the word: "Wow." Additionally, in the event you are unsure how these revelations should make you feel about Bush and cohorts, ample characterizations are provided: "[Bush and Cheney] have the gonads of 10,000 elephants," "Cheney is a sniveling coward..." The effect is like hitting a home run then running the bases backwards. But if our messenger is flawed, I would argue that it is not incidental. For the most part, the established media, with the complicity of the opposition party, have entirely ignored this discussion. If we are to have it at all, someone like Bugliosi is exactly who we would get: someone relegated to the fringes, but with enough credibility (earned through the course of career accomplishments) to at least make it into print.

In the book's opening paragraph, Mr. Bugliosi lets us know that he regards this war as "the most serious crime ever committed in American history." That is a high bar for any prosecutor, but the writer who makes the leap is not the Bugliosi I wanted. What did Rumsfeld say about fighting wars with the army you have? In 2008, this is the available Bugliosi. He can still be compelling when he sticks to the facts, which renders it all the more unfortunate when his credibility dissolves in the steam of his own histrionics. This is particularly true if you happen to believe that, at the core of this book, resides a deeply necessary discussion. If we follow the thread of that opening—a concocted war that has killed over a hundred thousand would certainly constitute a crime of historic proportions. The suspect is the President of the United States. In all likelihood, no one will ever be held to account. The whole of American discourse seems to have missed the magnitude of all this, save one crazy old coot. Wow.

 

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