THE PROSECUTION OF GEORGE W. BUSH FOR MURDER: by Vincent Bugliosi, Vanguard Press, Perseus Books Group, 2008, 323pgs.


Before writing a book every author has two fundamental decisions to make. What is it that you want to say? And who do you want to say it to? That second decision determines the whole approach, the style, and architecture of the book. In this regard “The Prosecution Of George W. Bush For Murder” has a slightly awkward quality to it which could be problematic for some. I’ll get to that later. First, I am very glad it has been written.


Vincent Bugliosi has earned a reputation over many years as not only a tough and highly skilled prosecutor but as a bestselling author who writes in the “true crime” genre. He first gained national attention for his book “Helter Skelter” about his successful prosecution of Charles Manson. Therefore when someone of his stature writes a book with such a provocative title as this one, it is sure to attract attention.  


The “murder” that Bugliosi refers to is of course the some 4,500 American soldiers who have died thus far in the Iraq war. One would think that the controversy surrounding the Bush administration’s by now discredited claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to Al Qaeda would have been appropriately dealt with by Congress through impeachment hearings, but sadly it was not to be. Given the fact that this was a crime by a government against another government, perhaps the World Court could legitimately consider it under their jurisdiction to bring charges of violations of international law, however it is unlikely that any international body will pursue a case of such magnitude against the world’s only superpower. What is unique is Bugliosi’s thesis that George Bush can and should be tried by an American prosecutor in an American criminal court on the charge of  first degree murder.


What naturally pulls the reader in is the question of how this is possible. From the outset Bugliosi has two principle obstacles to overcome. First he must establish on what grounds he bases his charge of murder and second, and more difficult,  he must establish that a normal criminal court can have jurisdiction over a President for his behavior while he was formulating an official policy of the U.S. government. Having done that Bugliosi can then try to prove guilt.


Doing this constitutes the central part of the book and is entitled “The Legal Framework For The Prosecution”. To establish the basis for the charge, the author begins with the “vicarious liability rule”. In this case the defendant does not have to actually pull the trigger but

“…. deliberately sets in motion a chain of events he knows will cause a third party innocent agent to commit an act, ………. (he) is criminally responsible for that act”. (pg. 87)


Combining this and the “aiding and abetting rule” Bugliosi establishes that as long as it can be proven that Bush lied to take the nation to war, he is guilty.


That leads to the question of jurisdiction. If the Congressional authorization to use arms against Iraq, which made the war legal official U.S. policy, was obtained  under false pretenses it cannot be used as a defense since “fraud vitiates consent” under the law. After thoroughly researching the question Bugliosi concludes that there is no existing U.S. law that precludes an American jury from putting a President on trial provided he is no longer a sitting President. In this case it would certainly be a matter of “first impression” which means that there simply is no legal precedent. But every precedent has a first time.


The door now being open to proceed. Bugliosi begins his pursuit of a guilty verdict by demonstrating that beyond any doubt George W. Bush knew that statements that he was making went beyond mere subjective interpretation of intelligence reports but that he did indeed lie.  Bugliosi earns his star reputation with a precise, well organized, methodical, and unrelenting case. This is the heart and soul of the book, a gem,  and alone is worth the price.


So where’s the problem? Well the book is divided into three parts with “the gem” centered in the middle. It is the first and third parts that seem somehow superfluous. Bugliosi does nothing to conceal the contempt he feels for Bush in all aspects of his conduct as president. In these two parts he goes on at great length at the horrors and suffering of war,  the incompetence of the administration, the ignoble character  of the president and other members of the government. He expends an awful lot of time and energy quite emotionally venting his anger. It is an anger that I share and no doubt is  shared by many who will buy and read the book. But apart from the therapeutic effect it doesn’t add much.


I know why he did it though. Bugliosi makes it clear, and in this he has a valid and important point. Over and over again he sees and hears people on TV who now freely acknowledge  that Bush lied us into war. In the next breath they’re talking about something else as if it were nothing! There is an emotional numbness, an almost pathological detachment from the brutal reality of what we do in the world that stings Bugliosi deeply as a man and provides the driving passion that  animates this whole book.


The history of the Bush administration is already being spun to protect him. Phrases are used like “everybody got it wrong”, “All the intelligence agencies in the world got fooled”, “mistakes were made” “He got some bad intelligence”, “Congress all agreed”. It’s spin, which is the modern word for lying. There was no mistake. It was a lie. The President of the United States caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Are we as a society in denial as to the implications of this fact? It isn’t easy and may just be the toughest inconvenient truth of all. 


Russell Branca

New York

November, 2008