In this interview, author and attorney Charlotte Dennett talks about her new book, The People V. Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign to Bring the President to Justice and the National Grassroots Movement She Encounters Along the Way, what led her to run for Vermont state attorney general on a platform to prosecute George W. Bush, the current movement to bring Bush to justice, and connections between the US accountability movement and similar movements around the world.
If you donate $30 or more to Toward Freedom’s fund drive, we’ll send you a free gift of Dennett’s new book.
Charlotte Dennett has been practicing law since 1997, with an emphasis on personal injury litigation and suing the government under the Freedom of Information Act. She's also been a reporter in the Middle East and is the coauthor with her husband, Gerard Colby, of Thy Will Be Done-The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil. She and her husband live in Cambridge, Vermont.
Toward Freedom: First of all, could you talk a about what led you to run for state attorney general on a platform to prosecute George W. Bush?
Charlotte Dennett: Robin Lloyd, the publisher of TowardFreedom.com, gave me a copy of The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder by Vincent Bugliosi to read. She knew about my background as a journalist in the Middle East and that I was appalled by Bush's illegal war in Iraq. She also knew that I had recently decided to be the Progressive Party's candidate for Vermont attorney general in the 2008 race. (I am both an investigative journalist and an attorney.) When she handed the book to me, she said, "I think this will interest you. There's something in the book about what we in the separate states can do. Let me know what you think."
Sure enough, I landed on a sentence in the book that said that any attorney general or any district attorney in any state could seek an indictment of Bush in a state criminal court and then try him for murder and conspiracy to commit murder for sending our troops to war on false pretenses. I had already read Bugliosi's evidence, and knew him to be a highly respected prosecutor who had successfully prosecuted 105 out of 106 felony jury trials, including 21 murder convictions without a single loss as an assistant DA in Los Angeles. (He is most famous for trying the Manson gang for the Sharon Tate murder, which he later immortalized in the book Helter Skelter.) I read carefully the legal framework he laid out for trying the former president in a state court and was sufficiently impressed to get in touch with him.
Also, Bugliosi had said elsewhere in the book that journalists had done a great job in exposing Bush's criminal behavior in the lead up to the war but then just went on to other subjects, That appalled him. Why, he wondered, doesn't someone DO SOMETHING about it? That really got to the journalist in me. He took the first big step and wrote the book, hoping a DA or AG would take him up on the challenge. I took the second step, even though I was only running for AG, not actually a sitting AG.
As good fortune would have it, when I called Bugliosi and talked with him, I learned that he was flying East in a week to attend a conference at the Massachusetts School of Law on Prosecuting High Level Government Officials for War Crimes. We agreed to meet there. I got to test out some of his ideas with other lawyers and he got to check me out by inviting me to dinner. We actually hit it off right away (We noticed, among other things, that we both put great value on thoroughly documenting our arguments with copious footnotes because in our separate ways, we had gone up against very powerful people, him against Bush and co., me, in a previous book I co-wrote with my husband, Gerard Colby, against the Rockefellers. (Thy Will be Done - The Conquest of the Amazon:Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil). So right from the beginning there was a sort of mutual admiration. Within a week, he flew up to Vermont to be with me when I formally announced my race, pledging to appoint Bugliosi as my special prosecutor should I win the race.
TF: What was the response among Vermont voters to this platform?
The voters I met on the campaign trail responded exactly as I had hoped. They loved the idea and gave me the high fives every where I went. I already knew that they were inclined to go that way because polls showed that over 60% of Vermonters disapproved of the war in Iraq. Some 37 towns had voted in their town meetings to impeach Bush. The town of Brattleboro voted to have Bush arrested if he ever set foot in Vermont. So I knew that there was strong anti-Bush sentiment in the state, not to mention the sad fact that Vermont had the highest per capita loss of soldiers in Vermont.
The establishment, of course, did not appreciate my platform. The incumbent, a well-entrenched Democrat, accused me of just "throwing ideas out there to make good political points" and accused me of violating my ethical obligations as a lawyer. That really offended me, especially since it's an attorney's obligation to report a crime or pursue a criminal investigation if presented with sufficient evidence.
The press was also generally hostile after the first press conference, refusing to run my rebuttals to my opponent's claim that Vermont lacked jurisdiction to prosecute Bush and that it could only be done in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. The incumbent AG was in fact wrong. Even if we had wanted to prosecute Bush through the ICC, we could not because the US is not a signatory to the ICC. And he got the crimes wrong. We were not planning to go after Bush for war crimes (such as torture); we were going after him for murder, and there are numerous ways one can bring a murder charge against a perpetrator in a state court even if he never set foot in the state. (You can read my book or go to my FAQs on "How to Prosecute a President" at my website, chardennett.org, to see how it can be done.)
In any event, a hostile or indifferent press, an entrenched incumbent, and only one month to campaign were all factors in my coming third in a four-way race, with 6% of the vote.
Still, 17,000 Vermonters voted for me, an unknown, on short notice.
I am currently pondering a repeat run, provided I have the time and the resources to get around the state more. It would still be uphill, but I do know that the slogan "Accountability Now!" resonates with people, both on local issues (like the critical need to close Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in 2012) or national issues, like ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
TF: Please describe the current state of the movement to prosecute Bush.
CD: The movement to prosecute Bush is now part of a growing Accountability Movement in the U.S. and abroad. In the U.S. people are just fed up with government officials (whether elected or appointed) acting above the law, as they are with corporations (whether oil companies or giant media conglomerates) heeding the bottom line instead of serving the public interest. A group of us who recently attended a conference in Santa Cruz California called "Understanding Deep Politics" will soon be releasing a Declaration of Accountability which provides some suggested actions, and prosecuting Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld (among others) remains high on the list of priorities.
Vincent Bugliosi is making progress on finding a DA to prosecute Bush in a state criminal court, and as I said, I may run again or I may focus on building the accountability movement. The point is this: there is now far more evidence of Bush's culpability than when I embarked on my campaign, especially in the area of war crimes.
Last week, Physicians for Human RIghts are calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to open a criminal investigation into human experimentation on detainees held at Guantanamo, which is a war crime.
Meanwhile, thanks to the release of the so-called "torture memos" a year ago, two Spanish prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation in the US that goes beyond a Special Prosecutor's investigation of CIA interrogators to include a) the lawyers who devised bogus laws in the Justice Department to exculpate the CIA and b) the people who authorized the torture: Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, for starters. They have the right to do that because Spanish citizens were tortured in Guantánamo. (Their court filings refer to a systematic plan of torture that took on “almost an official nature and therefore entails criminal liability in the different structures of execution, command, design and authorization.”)
One of the prosecutors, Baltasar Garzón, has recently been brought up on professional misconduct charges in Spain, a decidedly political act by the right wing which is hoping to cripple him nationally and internationally. They do not want him to further his ongoing investigation into war crimes that occurred during the Spanish Civil law and went after him for violating a Spanish law that gave immunity to those who engaged in war crimes during that time. Garzón claims a higher authority to prosecute, including international law. He has broad international support. The other lawyer doing the US investigation, Eloy Velasco, is still at it as far as I know.
Meanwhile, Frances Boyle, a professor of international law at University of Illinois, has filed a criminal complaint with the ICC against Bush, Cheney et al for authorizing extraordinary renditions (kidnapping of terrorism suspects and sending them to secret black sites for torture) and that investigation is ongoing, with Boyle delivering more and more evidence. Former U.S. Attorney General was recently chosen to head an international commission to investigate Bush-era crimes. And as I write, he is in Calgary, Canada, defending the Canadian Mohawk protester Splitting the Sky for his attempted citizen's arrest last year of Bush.
All of this shows that the effort to hold Bush et al accountable for war crimes has gone global, and it will not end until justice is done.
TF: In your research, speaking and activism, do you see any connections to the movements against impunity for human rights violators in Latin America?
CD: With regard to Latin America, on June 24th, at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, I will be participating in a workshop sponsored by Toward Freedom called Overcoming Impunity, North and South. Joining me will be Toward Freedom publisher and moderator, Robin Lloyd and fellow panelists Mario Murillo a journalist, professor and expert on Colombia, Katherine Hughes-Fraitekh of Peace Brigades International and Laura Rotolo of the ACLU. Rotolo, who escaped Argentina at the height of its dictatorship, once tried to sue Henry Kissinger for war crimes and Chile and will report on the recent sentencing by an Argentine judge of the last of Argentina's dictators, Reynaldo Bignone, age 83, to 25 years in prison for kidnapping and torturing 56 victims in a concentration camp during Argentina’s "dirty war" from 1976-1983. .
Each one of us will deal with -- and try to further -- transnational efforts to hold North and South American war criminals accountable for their crimes against humanity.