As we begin part two, Zach has now entered the Courtroom to begin his cross-examination of George W. Bush.
The Last Chance Democracy Café:
Episode 49.2: The Anchorage Trials — 2036
by Steven C. Day
Zach had been lucky in one sense: For the most part, the job of Chief Legal Council for the Global Warming Tribunal had kept him so busy, obsessed even, there had been little time to doubt the meaning of what had become of his life. Even the nights were mostly safe — a fringe benefit to getting by on only three or four hours of sleep: When you’re that tired you tend to nod off quickly, leaving the ghosts stalking your spirit little chance to intrude.
Still, ghosts have a way of reaching out and grabbing a person.
As a young man, Zach had wanted to save the world; now, well into middle-age, he was forced to reconcile himself to a life spent, instead, trying to bring accountability to those who had stopped him and others from saving it.
All around him the world was dying, and the only answer he had left was to try to parcel out the blame.
As he looked at George W. Bush, sitting irritably in the witness box waiting for the cross-examination to start, he couldn’t help but feel it all had come down to this moment. If his life’s work was to have had any meaning at all, this was the hour.
“Damn,” he whispered so softly that even he couldn’t hear, “it’s been a long road getting here.”
* * *
The idea for an international global warming tribunal had first been floated almost 15 years earlier, but it met with ferocious opposition: The prospective defendants — the people most to blame for the earth’s fate — were wealthy and powerful. They not only had friends in high places, in many cases they effectively owned the highest places.
But 15 years of death and misery — 15 giant steps closer to the final abyss — had changed a lot of minds. And so in 2030 the Global Warming Tribunal opened up for business in Anchorage, Alaska.
Holding the Tribunal on American soil would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier, such was the anger the world felt toward the US.
Zach, for one, found it hard to blame them: America had by itself accounted for a staggering 24 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions during the important years leading up to the point of no return. That combined with the unimaginably reckless refusal of the American government to even seriously entertain the issue, let alone take meaningful remedial steps until it was far too late, had left Americans pariahs.
For almost a decade after the hopelessness of the situation first became widely recognized, the State Department kept an advisory in effect recommending against all nonessential foreign travel to anywhere in the world by US citizens. The danger of attacks by angry mobs was too great.
But by 2030 the global disaster had reached the point where purely emotional factors could no longer control decision making; and Anchorage, which to this point had been spared the most severe consequences of the initial climate change, was by far the best location for the Tribunal. There was also the thought that using an American forum might make it easier to finally generate the necessary support within the US to bring Bush to trial.
Beginning in 2032, with the preparatory work done, the trials began in earnest: Defendants included oil company executives, officers in Big Oil and Big Coal funded advocacy groups and so-called experts who had sponsored misinformation and, of course, politicians including one former Oklahoma Senator who was tried and imprisoned despite being 100-years-old at the time of sentencing. As he was led off in chains he kept screaming, “It’s a hoax I tell you, a hoax! And you’re all a bunch of Nazis too!”
The Tribunal was no kangaroo court: Before a defendant could be convicted three things had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt: First, that the defendant contributed in some way to misleading the public about the danger of global warming, or misused a position of public or private trust to delay or otherwise hamper humanity’s response to the emergency; second, that the defendant intended that his or her conduct would contribute to delaying or otherwise hampering such response; and, third, that a likelihood existed that the conduct (in conjunction with similar conduct by others) did, at least to a small degree, contribute to the failure of humanity to respond to the climate change crisis in time.
The fact that any particular defendant claimed to have personally doubted the existence of global warming, or that human conduct was contributing to it, was no defense to the charges. In light of the scientific consensus that existed on these issues, the Tribunal concluded that the willingness of a defendant to gamble the very future of the human race on the arrogant assumption that the experts were wrong should by itself be deemed criminal conduct.
172 defendants had been brought to trial so far, with 149 convictions returned; all but seven of those convicted received prison sentences.
But the big fish, the one person who if he escaped judgment would make a mockery of the whole process, still eluded the Tribunal. And year after year, as the trials crawled along, with one after another lesser offender facing justice, his absence became more and more distressing to Zach.
Then finally, on a balmy February day in Anchorage, word came: The U.S. government would extradite Bush, but there was a catch. He would be extradited for trial only; the Tribunal could not imprison him without a subsequent act of Congress authorizing it. In no position to bargain, the Chief Magistrate agreed.
* * *
One has to think that even the most polished of trial lawyers would have had at least a mild case of stage fright when confronted with this scene; and Zach, of course, was anything but polished in a courtroom. His nervousness was painfully apparent as he started the cross-examination.
Q. “Sir, would you agree, um (clears throat) . . . excuse me, would you agree that as president, your first duty was to protect the citizens of the United States from harm?”
Bush’s voice was filled with contempt.
A. “Buddy Boy, no one needs to tell me my duty to the American people. I lived that duty for eight long years. It was always part of me, every day when I . . . when I first got up . . .
Q. “Sir, would you also agree . . .
A. “Don’t you interrupt me (Bush flashed with anger). I don’t care, you know, what you think about George W. Bush the person. You can think whatever you want. But I was the President of the United States and that office deserves respect.”
The line about giving respect to the office of the presidency had been lifted straight out of an old movie about Harry Truman, something Truman supposedly said to MacArthur. It was one of the talking points Bush’s lawyers had drilled into him.
Q. “Sir, let me assure you, I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful . . .
A. “Of course you were . . . and you better stop it right now, right this second. (Turning to the Chief Magistrate) Now, do I get to finish my answer?”
CHIEF MAGISTRATE: “The witness may complete his answer.”
There were a number of differences between the Tribunal and an ordinary American court of law: One important one related to objections. Basically none were entertained. Unless things got so far out of control that the Chief Magistrate called for order, both the questioner and the witnesses were free to say pretty much anything they wanted.
A. (Continued) “. . . Like I was saying, the very first thing I did every morning as president . . . I mean after I worked out, was to get a security briefing on any threats to the American people. Protecting the American people was job one at the White House when I was the decider.
Q. “How about people elsewhere in the world, did you feel like you owed them any duty to . . .”
Bush interrupted angrily.
A. “I told you I knew my duty. And I sure don’t need someone like . . . some damn lawyer lecturing me about it.
Q. “I’m not lecturing . . .
A. “Yeah, you are. And everyone here knows it.”
Zach felt like throwing up.
He decided to change direction.
Q. “Sir, back when you were president, you knew didn’t you that the scientific consensus was that human conduct was causing global warming? You may not have agreed with it, but . . .
A. “That isn’t true at all. Lots of scientists disagreed with . . .
Q. “A few quacks and industry hirelings . . .
A. “No, they were good respected people. It’s just that you want to ignore them . . . to pretend they never existed. You want to use hindsight. Hindsight that’s what this is all about. But you see you didn’t have hindsight, or I mean I didn’t back when I was president. I couldn’t ignore those other voices, like you folks try to do now. I had responsibility to Americans . . . to the economy. To protect the economy. I didn’t have all this hindsight.”
Zach felt helpless. Whatever the question, Bush just kept spouting off his talking points and there was nothing Zach could think of to stop him.
Q. “You know, don’t you, Sir, that back when you were president the United States’ relative contribution to global warming was 30.3 percent? 30.3 percent!”
A. “No, Buddy Boy, I don’t know that. I’m sorry, but I guess I don’t spend as much time reading stuff as you do. You know, I still like to clear the brush on my ranch myself.”
There hadn’t been any brush on Bush’s land for years, not since global warming had wiped out virtually all of the vegetation in much of Texas, but Zach let it go.
There were a few giggles from Bush supporters sitting in the back of the courtroom. He smiled and nodded in response.
Zach was clearly in trouble, but he couldn’t think of anything to do except to read the next question off his legal pad.
Q. “Do you remember hiring Philip Cooney to be the chief of staff for the Council on Environmental Quality?
A. “Yeah, Phil was a good man, a good man.
Q. “Actually, before coming to the White House he was the person in charge of the fraudulent effort of the oil and coal industries to raise doubts about the science of global warming. That’s the kind of person you put in charge . . .”
Bush laughed derisively.
A. “That’s the problem with you liberals. You don’t like anyone who works in private enterprise. You think good people only work for the government. That’s you tax and spenders, all right.
Q. “Fifty Nobel Prize winners signed a letter accusing your administration of distorting the science of global warming. What do you have to say . . . ?
A. “That’s the thing about being president, Buddy Boy . . . not everybody likes you. That’s because you’ve got to make the hard decisions. You’re the decider. You don’t get to use hindsight. You’ve got to make the tough calls.
“Your Honor, could I have just three minutes,” asked Zach.
The Chief Magistrate seemed startled, but agreed.
Sitting down at the council table, Zach started thumbing through some documents. He wasn’t reading them; it was all show for the TV cameras.
“Can I help you find something,” whispered Debbie McAlester, an assistant council with the Tribunal.
“No, I’m fine,” he answered bluntly, not rudely, but definitely bluntly.
Zach had called the timeout to buy a couple of minutes to think: He was getting his butt kicked and he knew it. He’d clearly miscalculated in trying to prepare a textbook-style cross-examination — one that followed all the “rules”: Asking nothing but leading questions, never asking a question he didn’t already know the answer to and all that.
But this wasn’t a textbook situation. And right or wrong, the bottom line was that no one was going to force the former president to simply answer the questions posed: If he wanted to keep tossing out unresponsive talking points, no one was going to stop him.
Besides, the real issue here wasn’t Bush’s guilt anyway. Everyone already knew he was as guilty as sin. This was about trying to convince the American public that even a former president needed to be held accountable. That even at 90 years of age, George W. Bush deserved to go to jail for his crimes. Otherwise, it was all going to be for nothing anyway.
“Let’s get going,” said the Chief Magistrate with a note of impatience.
As Zach started slowly rising to his feet, he didn’t have the first clue of what to do differently, of how he could turn the tables on Bush.
But then, about halfway out of the chair, he stopped dead in place, one hand on each arm of the chair, his buttocks hovering awkwardly about a foot above the seat.
“Are you alright?” Debbie asked in a concerned voice.
“Zach, you okay?” she repeated.
Still no response.
Then, without saying a word, he looked up at her and winked.
He knew what he was going to do.
* * *
Click here for part 3, the conclusion of The Anchorage Trials – 2036.
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When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 26 years. Contact Steven at scday(AT)buzzflash.com.
© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001