As we begin part three, Zach is ratcheting up his cross-examination of George W. Bush.
The Last Chance Democracy Café:
Episode 49.3: The Anchorage Trials — 2036
by Steven C. Day
Reaching into his pants pocket Zach pulled out the small leather photograph holder he’d been carrying with him for months but had never opened. His voice confident now, almost serene, he said, “There should be three pictures; put them on the screen please.”
Within a few seconds, Christy, Josh and Emma’s faces popped up on over a billion television screens all across the world.
Zach stared at the monitor so hard you could almost imagine his corneas physically caressing the three images. He grinned. The make-believe faces he’d created for them had all been so terribly wrong. Christy’s hair was blonde, not black — inherited, presumably, from her grandmother (Zach’s wife) Christina. Christina had died seven years earlier, two years before Christy was born. Christy also had Christina’s blue eyes and her full cheeks; in fact, she had so many of his late wife’s features Zach knew instantly that she’d grow to be a knockout, just like . . .
He’d come closer with three-year-old Josh — the mischievous grin he’d imagined was definitely there, but contrary to the image Zach’s mind had created, Josh’s nose was entirely unremarkable; fate, which had otherwise been so terribly cruel to Josh’s whole generation, had at least spared him from the family curse of abnormally large noses on the male side.
Emma was anything but the perfect Gerber Baby he’d imagined. Only six-months-old at the time the picture was taken, there was already no doubt she would be her own woman, with wild reddish hair and a chubby, intelligent face that just cried out with attitude.
Even with all of the pressure raining down on him at that moment, Zach couldn’t help but think of how proud Christina would have been to have seen three such handsome faces added to the family line.
Then speaking in a soft, almost, well, grandfatherly voice, Zach started in again.
Q. “I’d like to introduce you to my grandchildren, Mr. Bush.”
As any trial lawyer will tell you, the oddest things can sometimes throw a witness off stride. It can be something you would never have imagined — something like the pictures of three young children.
A. “What the hell does this have to do with anything? (The anger in his voice was disproportional to anything Zach had done.) I’m a man of some importance, you know, maybe you heard . . . The former President of the United States? The leader of the free world? I mean, I’m glad you’re proud of your grandkids . . . I’m proud of mine. But can we please stop wasting my time here.”
Zach didn’t take the bait. It was still the grandfather talking.
Q. “I don’t know, Mr. Bush, maybe you’re right; maybe I’m out of line here. It just seemed to me that their generation . . . my grandchildren and your great grandchildren, had a right to be heard at these proceedings . . . even if they are heard only by their silence. You see, sir, they never had their say back 30 years ago, when their futures were being irrevocably painted over . . . obliterated from the canvas of life . . . obliterated by decisions we made, decisions your generation and my generation made, they had no chance to speak in their own defense. Shouldn’t they be allowed, at least in some sense, to speak now? In the name of simple decency, sir, shouldn’t they finally be heard?”
Sadness as thick as a bank of New England fog saturated the courtroom. No surprise there. Sadness was just one of the facts of everyday life: Sadness at all the death and devastation; sadness at the powerlessness — the awful realization that the time for effective action on climate change had passed forever.
But most of all there was sadness about the children. The eyes of small children — the ones who were still adequately fed and cared for, were still as bright and full of life as ever. They didn’t know yet what was waiting for them. They didn’t know they’d been betrayed.
George W. Bush had never been able to see this sadness. The truth is that despite all the talk of compassion during his political career, he had always been largely devoid of empathy.
That was the epiphany that had come to Zach as he was getting out of his chair earlier. It was, he was now convinced, the weapon he could use to bring Bush down.
And almost as if on cue, Bush shook his head in disgust over Zach’s reference to the children.
A. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about . . .
Q. “Okay, then here’s a question that may help to explain it: Do you ever think about what life is going to be like for kids like these . . . say in 20, 30 or 40 years?”
Bush frowned deeply.
A. “If you have a real question I’ll answer it, but I won’t respond to something like that.
Q. “No, I want an answer.”
The tone of Zach’s voice hadn’t changed at all. There wasn’t a hint of aggravation or anger.
A. “I told you I won’t . . .
Q. “Answer the question, please.”
Bush’s voice was becoming increasingly agitated.
A. “I already told you I won’t . . .”
Now Zach’s voice was gaining a bit of a growl too.
“Sir, we can stay here until the oceans boil away for all I care, but I will have an answer to my question!”
The Chief Magistrate had been intentionally standing back, letting the two men fight it out without interference, but now he interceded.
The Chief Magistrate: “The witness will answer the question.”
Bush momentarily glared at him, but then asked for the question to be read back.
The Court Reporter complied: (“Do you ever think about what life is going to be like for kids like these . . . say in 20, 30 or 40 years?)
A. “Why would I think about something like that?”
Zach’s heart jumped. It was working.
Q. “I guess because it’s something I think about all the time.”
Bush laughed derisively.
A. “Well, if you want to spend your time thinking about stuff . . . stuff like that you can. I have more important things . . . things that are more important to me to think about.
Q. “The thing is, Mr. Bush, we pretty much know what the future is going to be like for these kids . . . you do understand that, don’t you?
A. “I guess you must be one smart fella. What with knowing all about the future and all that.”
Zach had had enough.
Q. “So you think this is some kind of a joke?” (He slammed his fist on the lectern. The crash echoing across the dark cherry paneling of the courtroom and out through the television cables and around the planet).
Bush sneered back at him.
A. “You’re right; this whole process is a joke!”
Zach felt his anger rising; he wanted to strike back, to let Bush have it right between the eyes, but he knew he was heading for the rocks. You never cross-examine out of anger; that takes you out of control, which is when you make mistakes.
So the rage dropped out of Zach’s voice, replaced by a note of melancholy.
Q. “Look at the faces of those kids, Mr. Bush. They’re going to die young, you know? They’ll struggle and struggle with a world that’s crumbling all around them. But the game’s been rigged. So in the end they’ll lose. All of our children and grandchildren . . . or at least almost all of them will live incredibly hard lives and then die before their time. Surely you know that Mr. Bush?”
Bush crawled back into his lawyers’ talking points.
A. That’s all hindsight. You’re using . . . trying to blame me through that hindsight thing . . .”
But this time Zach was having none of it.
Q. “No, we’re not talking about hindsight now . . . we’re not even talking about blame. We’re talking about the future. My grandchildren’s future, your great grandchildren’s future . . .
A “Buddy Boy, I have no clue where you think you’re going with this.
Q. “Over 12 percent of the world’s population is now made up of refugees. Did you know that?
A. “If you say so.
Q. “And the number is growing every day?
A. “If you say so, Buddy Boy, I’m sure it’s true.
Q. “We don’t have the resources to feed, cloth or shelter them and they’re dying by the millions. You know that . . . surely you know that?
A. “I’m a compassionate man. I have compassion for all peoples who is suffering, just like you do. The difference between you and me is that I also have compassion for the hard working people who pay the taxes. So I’m not a tax and spender . . .
Q. “Mr. Bush, you know don’t you that every year more farmland is being lost, and more coastal areas are being abandoned because of the storms and the rising water levels?
A. “You just keep talking, Buddy Boy, that’s fine. You just go on.”
Even at age 90, George W. Bush didn’t take well to being challenged and bit by bit this was taking a toll on both his answers and his demeanor in ways that were not helpful to his public defense.
Zach decided that it was time to up the ante.
Q. “Ninety percent of the human race will disappear by the year 2100 . . .
A. “That’s what some ecological terrorists say . . .
Q. “No, it’s the scientific consensus. It’s a simple matter of what resources will be available once temperatures reach a certain level. We don’t even know for certain that anyone will survive.”
Bush shook his head in disgust.
A. “Speeches. You do love to give speeches.”
Zach walked up to the witness box, standing no more than two feet from Bush.
Q. “I want to read you something, Mr. Bush.”
Zach pulled his wallet out of his coat pocket. Digging around among the government food coupons, the telephone numbers and other varied scraps of paper, he finally pulled out an old folded up sheet of yellow legal paper.
Q. “This is from one of my favorite poems. And it has some history to it. Clarence Darrow recited these lines in the famous Leopold and Loeb murder trial. They were the very last words he spoke in urging the jury to spare the two boys lives. This is how it goes:
“So I be written in the Book of Love
“I do not care about that Book above.
“Erase my name or write it as you will,
“So I be written in the book of Love.”
Bush shrugged disdainfully before launching into a tirade.
A. “You’ll do anything won’t you? First, we got to look at family pictures. That was sure swell. Now we get to hear . . . hear you tell us a poem. What’s next, you going to dance for us? I mean, really, could you please stop wasting everybody’s time. Or at least stop wasting mine.”
Zach ignored him.
Q. “The thing is, Mr. Bush, you could have done it . . . You could have written your name in the book of love. Think of it. You had the power to save the human race! And you were the perfect person for the job. As an old oilman, it would have been like Nixon going to China. If someone like you had been willing to raise the alarm about global warming as president people would probably have listened.
A. “There you go again with that hindsight stuff. Man, you just . . .
Q. “Sir, no . . . respectfully no. I’m sorry, but this isn’t the time for repeating talking points. You had plenty of opportunity for that during your direct examination. No, this is the time for truth. And the simple truth is that you were in a position to prevent most of the death and suffering that’s been caused by global warming. You had that within your power.”
Bush shifted in his chair, a scornful look pasted on his face as thick as a clown’s makeup.
A. “You do like to carry on, don’t you? You should go to Hollywood, Buddy Boy . . . star in the movies.” (He chuckled to himself).
But it was an awful blunder.
Zach spoke almost in a whisper.
Q. “Mr. Bush, surely you know, Hollywood’s gone . . .
A. “Well, yeah but . . .
Q. (continued) . . . along with most of the cities along the Southern California seaboard? You remember, don’t you? Three Category 7 hurricanes slammed into the Pacific Coast over the course of six days back in 2029? It wasn’t supposed to be possible, but by warming the planet we changed the rules. You remember . . . Over a million people were killed . . . including . . . well, sir, including my wife.”
He hadn’t intended to mention Christina; it had just slipped out.
A. “Well, I’m sorry to hear that, really I am.”
Zach swallowed hard, but no tears came. His voice became quieter, more philosophical.
Q. “Thank you, sir, I appreciate that, I do, but it isn’t just that you could have led the way in preventing all this from happening. It’s more than that. It’s also that you lied to the American people; you hid the truth from them . . .
A. “I did no such . . .
Q. “Of course you did. Please, don’t demean yourself by pretending otherwise. You . . . or at least those doing your bidding, doctored the results of scientific studies, threatened public servants if they spoke the truth about climate change and repeatedly distorted the scientific consensus to minimize the public’s concern. You put oil company profits ahead of the safety of the people, and because of . . .
A. “That’s a pack of lies!
Q. “No, Sir. It’s all been documented down to the smallest detail.”
Bush looked a little flustered as Zach pushed ahead.
Q. “And here’s the thing, in all of the 28 years since you left the White House, I can’t find a single example . . . and believe me I’ve looked everywhere, not a single record of any instance when you’ve expressed even the slightest remorse over what you did. So let me ask you Mr. Bush, do you have any regrets? Do you ever lay awake at night wondering how different things might be today if only you had . . . ?”
A. “I sleep like a baby. Thank you for your concern, though. Really, it’s touching, it is.”
Q. “I don’t want to play games anymore.
A. “I’m not playing games. Don’t you accuse me . . .
Q. “Good, I’m glad to hear it. Because I’ve been working here at this Tribunal for six years. But to tell you the truth, during all that time I’ve never really been sure . . . could never completely figure out just what it was I was trying to accomplish. What it was that would give me some sense of achievement, some sense that I’ve actually done something worthwhile. I was never sure what that was . . . until right now. And here’s the thing, Mr. Bush: I want you to apologize. I want you to look at that picture of my grandkids, and I want you to think about all of the other children out there who will never have a decent life because of you. Yes, sir, because of you. Because you cared more about greed than about their futures. I want you to tell them you’re sorry. I want you to tell them that you were wrong and that you know it and that you regret it.
A. “What are you saying . . . ?”
Q. “Let me make it absolutely clear. I want you to confess to your wrongs and to apologize for them, that’s all. And if you’ll do that here’s what I’ll do: I’ll withdraw the request to the United States to extradite you for purposes of punishment. I’ll let you off clean. No jail time . . . nothing. As the chief legal council for the Tribunal I have that power. Just apologize.”
Nervous whispers spread among the Tribunal staff. “What the hell is he doing,” someone was heard to say.
Oblivious to his staff’s concern, but emotionally exhausted, tears were beginning to well up in Zach’s eyes.
Bush was eyeing him suspiciously.
A. “This is some kind of trick.”
Q. “No trick. The whole world heard me. I’m making you a one time offer: All you have to do is to admit that you were wrong and apologize sincerely and you will get to go free, it’s that simple.
A. “You damn lawyers . . . you can’t trust a damn lawyer . . .”
Q. “Apologize, Mr. Bush, not to me, to the children.”
Bush’s voice was becoming more defensive, self-righteous even.
A. “I was the President of the United States. How dare you talk to me that . . .”
A. “I fought terrorism.”
Q. “Apologize, that’s all you have to do.”
A. “Who the hell are you to be questioning my actions?!”
Zach had had all he was going to take.
Q. “We’re done with this, sir. I’m prepared to see this trial out to the end. And I’m not worried about getting a conviction. You should have no illusions about that. So, I’m going to ask you just one more time: Will you admit that you wronged the children of the world . . . that you stole their future and apologize to them, yes or no?”
Bush hesitated for only a couple of seconds.
Then in a strong, firm and uncompromising voice, he gave his answer.
A. “I have nothing to apologize for, nothing!”
A gasp rolled across the courtroom.
And with that Zach brought the cross-examination to a close.
Q. “Then Sir, we have nothing else to talk about.”
And that was that.
* * *
Here’s a funny thing about cross-examinations: Sometimes the fiery ones, you know, the ones where the lawyer puts the witness through the meat grinder, aren’t the most effective. Sometimes the most effective cross-examinations are the ones where the lawyer merely, as the saying goes, gives the witness enough rope to hang himself.
At a reception at the Tribunal a few days later, the Chief Magistrate pulled Zach aside and whispered with a grin, “That was a hell of a chance you took offering Bush that deal.”
Zach returned the grin. “There are some bets a person should never pass up — that a rock when dropped will fall down not up, that the sun will rise in the east not the west and that George W. Bush will never admit to making a mistake about anything.”
Over the days that followed, public outrage toward Bush grew across the planet, but especially in the United States. The sympathy over his age was gone; people were angered by his refusal to apologize — that he didn’t have the common decency to do even that much.
Two months later the Congress of the United States voted to grant extradition of the person of George W. Bush to the Tribunal for purposes of passing sentence and enforcing punishment.
George W. Bush spent the last nine years of his life in prison in Anchorage, Alaska.
He never apologized, insisting to the very last that he had been the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt.
Zach resigned shortly after the trial and went home to be with his grandkids. While saying his goodbyes to the Chief Magistrate he said, “Every hour is precious now, every one.”
* * *
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
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