For those of us still seeking accountability for the crimes of the Bush administration and the despicable behavior of the Department of Justice under George W. Bush, the fires of outrage aren’t out yet. As squeamish as politicians seem to be about prosecuting crimes that happened in the past (as opposed to…?), there is a citizen’s movement that won’t just let massive injustices get swept under the rug.
On January 21, Charlotte Dennett, Vincent Bugliosi, and Naomi Wolf will be speaking at at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. The talk is entitled “Above the Law: VIPs and Accountability” and will attempt to shed light on the difficulties inherent in trying to prosecute crimes by high-ranking officials and the mega-rich, as well as the importance of adhering to the principle that noone is above the law.
Join an esteemed panel as they discuss American criminal justice, executive accountability and the difficulties encountered when prosecuting VIPs or celebrities in the government, corporate or entertainment sectors. Panelists include Charlotte Dennett, attorney and author of The People v. Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign To Bring the President to Justice and the National Grassroots Movement She Encountered Along the Way; Vincent Bugliosi, attorney and author of The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder; and Naomi Wolf, author of the best-selling The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot.
Excerpted below is the Preface, by Charlotte Dennett.
Many Americans consider it common knowledge that we have just lived through eight years of a rogue presidency. The question is: Have we set the stage for another rogue presidency in the future? Many believe the answer is yes, and as you will read in The People v. Bush, one way to prevent that is by prosecuting high-level officials for crimes committed in office.
This book is a cry for justice and accountability. Many Americans, pressed by hard times, are forgetting that the epidemic of lawlessness during the Bush era was a major cause of their misery. The Republican right wing is inflam¬ing discontent. Dark times could happen again, and they could be worse.
Corporate America has corrupted both major parties and all three branches of government, starting with the executive branch. President Bush lied so that he could send troops to fight his oil war in Iraq. He had people tortured and defiled the Constitution in order to boost his power while suppressing dissent at home.
Is this the kind of president we want for our children and grandchildren?
There are those who believe we live in a plutocracy, that it feeds on empire, and that it will take a gargantuan effort to change our country’s political direction. I’m up for that effort. So are a growing number of others that you will read about in the pages ahead.
As I write this, we are at an odd juncture, with President Obama not even a year into his first term and many in the nation watching to see just how far the demands of empire may sway his judgments. Emerging from a war we can’t justify, another one that’s escalating, and a crippling economic crash, Americans might easily find themselves feeling cynical.
My goal in writing this book is to help those craving justice choose action over cynicism. If you feel powerless to make that choice, then consider these many things we already have going for us.
1. A growing human-rights movement. Spurred by two foreign wars and appalled by torture, this movement’s most active members are human-rights lawyers, peace activists, civil libertarians, and people of faith.
Reverend William Wipfler, formerly head of the Human Rights Office of the National Counsel of Churches, is one. He sent an eight-page letter to Attorney General Eric Holder (reproduced on PeoplevBush.com) decrying previous inaction in the face of known U.S. war crimes. “I have interviewed and counseled the victims of the most heinous abuse imaginable, and then have had to leave them, wondering if they could ever heal their spirit,” he writes.
“For that reason, and for them, I insist that there must be accountability, and that accountability must respond to the highest standards of accepted domestic and international rule of law and not solely to political expedi¬ency.” I can just hear House Speaker Nancy (“impeachment is off the table”) Pelosi say, “Ouch!”
2. Evolving international law. It’s easier now to prosecute offenders because international law has evolved. In 1998, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in England for murdering, torturing, and “disappearing” politi¬cal opponents in Chile between 1973 and 1990.
√Also in 1998, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was created. The ICC tries the most serious of crimes, including genocide and war crimes. Previous U.S. administrations have refused to be a signatory to the ICC, an issue that is likely to come before the Obama administration for rectification.
Two Spanish judges are currently conducting criminal investigations into alleged war crimes by Bush et al. against Spanish detainees in Guantánamo. The ICC, meanwhile, has begun an investigation of possible war crimes by U.S. forces committed in Afghanistan in 2001.
Gail Davidson, a Canadian lawyer who heads the worldwide Lawyers against the War (LAW), has twice tried to bring Bush to justice. In both cases, she relied on Canadian and international laws that prohibit war crimes, but no judge or prosecutor would enforce them.
When I asked Davidson why she persevered, she replied: “When Bush began bombing Afghanistan in 2001, the memory of that famous photo of a little girl running and burning from aerial bombing in Vietnam came to mind. I thought of my own grandchild running and burning and not having anyone say, ‘You can’t do that. This war is illegal.’ ”
She also likes citing Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
3. Time. Movements take shape and gain focus with time—and we have time on our side. Already, as I write this, calls for prosecuting high govern¬ment officials have gone mainstream. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed a special prosecutor to look into alleged crimes committed by the CIA. In Britain, the Chilcot Inquiry is holding hearings on alleged govern¬ment fraud and illegal collusion with the United States leading up to the Iraq war. As time goes on, more action will unfold. But it will take steady prod¬ding from citizens willing to make accountability a priority.
Aside from these concrete signs of progress, we also have some deep historical influences to guide a movement focused on restoring accountabil¬ity and maintaining civil societies. For me, those influences are embodied in the form of Lady Justice, one of the oldest symbols in human history. Dating back to Ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, Lady Justice adorns the world’s courtrooms, often clothed in flowing robes and always holding aloft the scales of justice, equally balanced. Often, too, she is blindfolded to make a simple point: True justice must be blind to rank, power, or privilege. We are all equal under the law.
I first encountered Lady Justice in the foyer of a federal courthouse in Manhattan. Aloof from X-ray machines and armed guards, she seemed to fling herself out at me like a giant Nike, the goddess of victory and triumph. Her arms outstretched holding perfectly balanced scales, her head held high, her eyes blindfolded, this huge, white-cloaked apparition made me stop and stare.
Today, she remains a powerful reminder that we cannot tolerate the rich and the powerful living above the law.
As Americans, we also have our revolutionary forbears to inspire us. Pamphleteer Tom Paine cried out in 1776, “O Ye that love mankind! Ye that dares oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth!” In 1863, Abraham Lincoln gave a stirring reminder at his Gettysburg Address that our democracy must never be allowed to die, just as those who died in the civil war must never be allowed to die in vain. He made a promise: “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Today, with our first African American president, those words have a new resonance. We can still hope, but we must strengthen our resolve to act.