Fresno State Professor Randa Jarrar rocked the local academic scene with her accusation that the recently deceased Barbara Bush was an “amazing racist” and that she was the mother of a “war criminal.” While these comments harvested a huge return of often vitriolic comments, no one seems to have evaluated the truth of these statements.
Let’s take the second charge that her son and former President George W. Bush was a war criminal. This probably rests on both the presence of “enhanced interrogation,” torture to many, and the initiation of the second Gulf War, the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In an attorney’s mind, criminality is most often linked with “scienter,” commonly known as intent. Here one would need to look for criminal intent: vindictiveness or the desire to inflict pain for its mere pleasure.
One of the toughest tasks that I had as a trial attorney was to get the jury to place themselves in the position of the protagonist, plaintiff or defendant, at the critical time. Each of us tends to view life by hindsight, but the war criminal charge must be viewed by the scene at the time.
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America has seen many horrors based on immediate fears of danger. John Adams’ “Alien and Sedition Acts” of 1791 were based on real fears of war with France.
I experienced the huge national fear after Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In Chicago we were having air raid warnings. And as fourth grader I was given a silhouette chart to look for enemy aircraft. Fear swept the land.
So we need to return to the fears after 9/11, the downing of the Twin Towers by terrorists in aircraft. Everyone expected further acts of terror. Donald Rumsfeld, the fefense decretary at the time, recently posited on PBS the question: “If you know a terrorist in custody had an atomic bomb in New York to go off in 10 days, what would you do?” It correctly pits torture against long-term American values. President Bush was reacting to the widespread panic of the time. I would say he was an ordinary person but without malign “scienter,” intent.
A great person is one who rises about the crowd like India’s Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. Bush did not do that, so he is prosaic like most of us. But some would say, probably including Professor Jarrar and certainly myself, that ordering torture is a war crime no matter what your state of mind or the circumstances.
As to the invasion of Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction were found, although this was the basis of the attack relying on CIA estimates. And idealists in the president’s cabinet thought that we would transform the Middle East. They were so wrong!
President Bush clearly went along with the crowd and didn’t show the leadership even his father showed in an earlier Gulf War in not invading the central part of Iraq. I believe his intentions were good but not wise.
Barbara Bush’s comments rest largely on her comment after Hurricane Katrina in September 2015, that folks sheltering in a Houston stadium were”underprivileged anyway so this is working out well for them.”
It would be nice to explain this away by looking at the era, but by 2015 as a nation we were far along on our program of helping the poor. They were clearly a deserving minority going back to Biblical times. So I think this was an offensive remark and ill founded and prejudicial.
Does this make Barbara Bush an “amazing racist?” It Is interesting that her remarks had no racial content, but were probably aimed at people of color. So I think the charge of Professor Jarrar in this context had merit in being at least defensible and perhaps even largely correct.
What the reader has just read is what I suggest should have occurred after Jarrar’s remarks. This is what the First Amendment is all about: the clash of ideas with their presumed destruction out of which truth will hopefully emerge. Her abrasive comments had the ring of merit and deserved to be weighed and tested, not excoriated by equally offensive extremes. Quiet dialogue is the answer to vitriol. We need more of it and the First Amendment demands it (but excuses excesses).
Phil Fullerton of Fresno is a retired lawyer. Email him at Puyricard8@ sbcglobal.net.