What do the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the disastrous Iraq war, corruption on Wall Street and within the banking industry, and the crash of 2008 all have in common? They all were horrific events which caused unbearable loss in life and treasure and for which no one was held accountable. Who was fired after 9/11? Comedian Bill Maher. (He lost his late-night ABC “Politically Incorrect” show when he said the 9/11 terrorists were “not cowards.”)
What was the unacceptable excuse after 137 inspections revealed there were no WMDs? Or when the Iraq war was exposed as perhaps the worst foreign policy blunder in American history? “Uh, we had bad intel.”
Former L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted the Manson family, spent his entire adult life holding people accountable. In 2008, I even thought he was coming after me.
Famed defense attorney and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz paid Bugliosi the ultimate compliment. “If I were innocent there’s no prosecutor I’d rather have than Vince. And if I were guilty, there’s none I’d fear more.” Bugliosi is brilliant, thorough and as relentless as a pit bull, all of which I’d learn from personal experience.
For those unfamiliar, Bugliosi was the most famous prosecutor in America. Of 106 felony cases, Bugliosi won 105. (Which, of course, makes me curious about the one that got away.) But it was Bugliosi’s 1971 conviction of the Manson family for the Tate-LaBianca murders which made him a household name. His book, “Helter Skelter,” which documented the murders and the trial, sold 7 million hard-cover copies, still a publishing history record.
But, in 2008, it was the title of Bugliosi’s latest book that caught my eye, “The Prosecution of George W. Bush For Murder.” (Bugliosi jokingly apologized for it being “a little bit ambiguous.”)
Albeit controversial, Bugliosi’s well-researched book contends that by taking the country to war in Iraq under knowingly false pretenses, President Bush committed the most serious crime in U.S. history. He further theorizes that, under the felony murder rule, Bush is responsible for the deaths of over 4,000 American GIs and 100,000 innocent Iraqis.
I ordered the book and on July 18, 2008, I wrote my review. Overnight I received a slew of e-mails. Some accused me of being unpatriotic and one even called me “a Commie,” which seemed so dated, but then again Romney’s top foreign policy advisor recently referred to Russia as the Soviet Union.
Another memorable e-mail suggested that if I didn’t “love America” I ought to leave it, or at least leave Santa Monica. I e-mailed back that if he had a villa in the south of France I’d consider it. I’m still waiting.
A week after the review, Bugliosi called the office looking for me. Maybe I was still shell-shocked, but I was worried that he didn’t care for the review either. Reluctantly, I took his number. As I was dialing the man who put Manson on death row, I was a bit uneasy. I certainly didn’t expect what was to follow.
Bugliosi couldn’t have been more cordial. “No other mainstream paper in America reviewed my book” he said and thanked me for my courage. Courage? A few minutes earlier I had been afraid to dial his phone number.
He described how his book had essentially been blacklisted, even though he has been No. 1 on the NY Times hard-cover best-seller list with three different books. Some media outlets wouldn’t even let him buy advertising space. And yet, through word of mouth, the book sold 130,000 copies in the first three months.
Based on the book, Bugliosi told me he was putting together a documentary. It’s taken over four years, but it’s done. Having seen it, I can say it was worth the wait.
“The Prosecution of an American President” is a compelling film, narrated by Bugliosi, which is a must-see if you were for the war or against it. On camera Dershowitz expresses concerns about a president being held legally liable for actions while in office. It seems to me that’s exactly what we want.
Others suggest that we need to “move on” from the past. But if we don’t hold those accountable now, without question there will be future wars fought on the basis of lies. In Vietnam there was the Gulf of Tonkin incident which escalated that horrific war on a false premise. (Orchestrated by LBJ, a Democrat as it happens.)
In Iraq it was WMDs, “a mushroom cloud smoking gun” and that we could be attacked in 45 minutes. While two-thirds of America now views the Iraq war as a mistake, Romney’s advocating increased defense spending. (But PBS and Big Bird have to go.) Willard says that militarily we “need to be more aggressive.” Uh, oh. Can a war with Iran be far off?
When “The Prosecution of an American President” comes to Santa Monica, I urge everyone to see it, especially those who were pro Iraq war. Afterwards, if you feel compelled to write me angry e-mails, fair enough. But if you still want me to leave Santa Monica, don’t forget the villa in the south of France.