Stephen C. Webster
September 16, 2008
On Saturday morning in Andover, Massachusetts, as about 120 activists, adademics, constitutional scholars, public officials and legal experts gathered in the Wyndham hotel, the building suddenly went dark.
Electricity had been cut off just prior to the start of a landmark war crimes conference, the goal of which was to plan the prosecution of Bush Administration officials. The first of its kind conference, already featuring a laundry-list of notable speakers, was suddenly in flux … If only for a few moments.
“We were already so effective, the government tried to shut us down,” said conference organizer Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, in an interview with RAW STORY.
“Of course, when I said that at the conference opener, the power had been restored. I was only joking,” said Velvel with a slightly nervous laugh. “A fuse box fried, but the local electric company fixed it before we even began.”
The ‘Bush war crimes conference,’ according to its organizers, is a “throwback to the framers of the constitution,” which aims to establish “necessary organizational structures” to pursue those guilty of war crimes “to the ends of the Earth.”
“The framers didn’t trust the federal government either,” said Velvel. “And oddly enough, over the years and decades, a strong distrust of government was once a Republican position. It was, at least, in theory. And then Bush came along and there’s this, well, my country, love it or leave it in the GOP … But now, you have people on the other side of the spectrum taking that very position.
“This is a conservative idea, to hold conferences and then take action to take power. Liberalism has been made fun of as mere self expression. I was very impressed by the desire in this group to take action.”
“This is not a campaign event,” said Professor Christopher Pyle of Mt. Holyoke College, during his speech to the conference. “It is a conference about how to restore governmental accountability in the wake of a criminal administration. It addresses the most serious crisis in our nation’s history — the claim that the president and his secret agents can get away with torture, kidnapping, and even manslaughter.”
The two day affair was divided in half: Speakers on Saturday, and planning on Sunday.
Chief among the academics, legal experts and whistle-blowers speaking in Andover was Vincent Bugliosi, best known for successfully prosecuting Charles Manson and penning the subsequent novel, Helter Skelter. His new book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, is currently available at retail.
Watch Bugliosi’s opening statement to a July, 2008 House Judiciary Committee hearing on the limits of executive authority:
Other speakers included:
# Phillippe Sands, Professor of Law and Director of the Centre of International Courts and Tribunals at University College, London. He is the author of “Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values” (Penguin/Palgrave Macmillan), among other works.
# Jordan Paust, Professor of Law at the University of Houston and author of “Beyond The Law.”
# Ann Wright, a former U.S. Army colonel and U.S. Foreign Service official who holds a State Department Award for Heroism and who taught the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Land Warfare at the Special Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg, N.C. She is the coauthor of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”
# Peter Weiss, Vice President of the Center For Constitutional Rights, which was recently involved with war crimes complaints filed in Germany and France against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others.
# Benjamin Davis, Associate Professor at the University of Toledo College of Law and former American Legal Counsel for the Secretariat of the International Court of Arbitration.
# David Lindorff, journalist and co-author with Barbara Olshansky of “The Case for Impeachment: Legal Arguments for Removing President George W. Bush from Office”(St. Martin’s Press).
# Colleen Costello of Human Rights USA.
# Christopher Pyle, a professor at Mt. Holyoke and author of several books on international matters
“We need to revers[e] a fifty-year trend towards unaccountable secret government, which can commit crimes with impunity,” said Pyle in a release. “‘Sending a clear signal to future Cabinet-level officials that ours is still a government under law, and that they had better obey the criminal law, no matter what their president and his legal lackeys say,’ is a matter of overwhelming importance.”
While video of the conference was broadcast live via UStream.tv, the footage is currently unavailable on the Internet.
Conference organizers told RAW STORY that a series of DVD’s will be offered for sale at cost to interested parties. Online footage of the conference will also be made available Friday, Sept. 19, at a Web site address yet to be announced.
“Later this week we will establish a central committee which will decide which of the many ideas we came up with are practical, and we will begin asking people to undertake particular actions,” said Velvel. “Once those first steps are carried out, as I hope it will be, that will be the first major accomplishment of this conference.”
The plans, which will be released in a media advisory later this week, considered:
# What international and domestic crimes were committed, which facts show crimes under which laws, and what punishments are possible.
# Which high level Executive officials — and Federal judges and legislators as well, if any — are chargeable with crimes.
# Which international tribunals, foreign tribunals and domestic tribunals (if any) can be used and how to begin cases and/or obtain prosecutions before them.
# The possibility of establishing a Chief Prosecutor’s Office such as the one at Nuremburg.
# An examination of cases already brought and their outcomes.
# Creating an umbrella Coordinating Committee with representatives from the increasing number of organizations involved in war crimes cases.
# Creating a Center to keep track of and organize compilations of relevant briefs, articles, books, opinions, and facts, etc., on war crimes and prosecutions of war criminals.
Velvel told RAW STORY that several groups have been established to force some universities to hold hearings on whether faculty members should have their jobs terminated for participating in Bush Administration crimes.
“John Yoo, the author of the infamous ‘torture memo’ who now works at Berkeley, comes quickly to mind,” he added.
“The consensus of attendees is President Bush’s attack on Iraq is a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and that he is culpable for this as well as for torture and abuse of war prisoners held by the U.S. military and the CIA,” stated a media advisory.
Other conference cell groups plan to raise up groundswells of support for district attorney candidates who would be willing to investigate or prosecute Bush Administration crimes. Conference attendees also plan to begin seeking disbarment proceedings against lawyers who assisted the administration in war crimes.
Additional measures, details of which were not immediately forthcoming, include utilizing foreign and International courts, and focused actions on state and local levels.
“The idea of using foreign and International courts is not so dissimilar to the time [Donald] Rumsfeld had to flee France to avoid arrest on war crimes charges,” said Velvel. “Of course, that was a foreign court, and he just went into Germany and was fine. We were talking more about going to a true International court.”
The Bush war crimes conference is in the tradition of Justice Robert H. Jackson, who prosecuted war criminals after World War II, writes Sherwood Ross.
“The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people,” said Justice Jackson. “It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched.”
“Obviously, we want to go beyond self expression,” concluded Velvel.