In 2004, as U.S. Citizens prepared to elect a president, professors at Austin Peay State University were told that they would not be allowed to discuss the current election with students. On Tuesday, just over three years after that pivotal election year, a mock trial was held on campus, a trial that pitted the United States against its president, George W. Bush, for violations of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Convention.
The trial was staged as part of a Constitutional Law I class taught by Professor Greg Rabidoux, Ph.D., J.D., and included a panel of Judges, Defense Counsel and Prosecutors, and witnesses; it filled room 308 of the Morgan Center and was a “dream come true” for many of us in the audience. Class member Michael Price said he “jumped” at the opportunity to be a prosecutor in this case.
Dr. Rabidoux and Defense Attorney DeJesus
Dr. Rabidoux explained to the audience that he had incorporated several features and procedures from different judicial forums and different types of law to help students learn the most in the shortest amount of time. On Tuesday, the prosecution and defense read their opening statements to the panel of judges; the prosecutors presented two key witnesses, and cross examination and re-direct was allowed. Re-direct allows prosecutors to ask questions again of the witness after the defendants are done with cross examination.
Four charges were brought against President Bush:
- Disparate Treatment of US Citizens during Hurricane Katrina Response in violation of 14th Amendment. The Federal response to Hurricane Katrina provided unequal protection under the law by unqualified director Michael Brown who was picked by Bush as he passed over others more qualified. Defense so far: qualifications of officials are approved by President and reviewed and then approved by Congress.
- Violation of Separation of Powers within Articles I-III of US Constitution. Bush is not just interpreting to clarify laws through signing statements, but actually and intentionally changing the actual law, attempting to assert power as a lawmaker and not just through his Article II [“He shall faithfully execute the law”] powers from the Constitution. A President is not a lawmaker. He has altered 750 laws. [Reference the following website: http://writ.news.findlaw.com/commentary/20060109_bergen.html]. Defense questioning: Was he not defining the laws, rather than changing them? Where in the constitution does it say he cannot do that?
- Violation of Amendments I & IV, Freedom of Speech and Illegal Search and Seizure. Concerning wire tapping and eavesdropping on the American people: What is legal under the 4th Amendment and FISA, versus what has been made legal under the USA Patriot Act, and if in conflict, which one should prevail. There was deception on the part of the President in order to get the Patriot Act passed. Had Congress had the facts, they would not have signed the Patriot Act to begin with, considering the clear violations of priviliges and due process rights offered by the Constitution under the Bill of Rights. The Prosecution presented FBI witness who testified she obtained no search warrants because of the President’s direct order to eavesdrop/wiretap. Defense so far: In time of war President has the right to defend the people’s freedom (Author’s note: At issue: Defend freedom by taking it?) The Act was passed by Congress; witness was almost abandoned as she seemed shaky on her presentation, but a motion to strike her testimony was denied.
- Violation of the Geneva Convention Articles: Iraqis, specifically those in militias, were taken prisoner by the United States military when the U.S. military acted as an invading force. Prosecutors presented CIA witness who testified that most Iraqis captured and held had no ties with insurgents and were released. When Iraq was invaded, the Iraqi soldiers were of course supposed to defend their country. They were found by the CIA to be law abiding citizens, not terrorists. The definition of terrorist per G.W. Bush is “a suspected member of Al Quaeda or the Taliban”. For taking prisoners of war on Iraqi soil, the U.S. and military must adhere to Geneva Convention Articles. Defense so far: What is this war called? (War on Terror) Are we at war with the Iraqi people? (That latter question was stricken as the witness was not an authority)
It was obvious to me that it was difficult for everyone to present their statements, to be interrupted with questions, be interrupted with objections about “leading” witnesses, changing the question, listening and voicing objections. Still, they did very well, and as the process went on the students improved their strategies, thought processes and reactions. The Judges had a time period of asking questions of both sides. The prosecution offered ample evidence of detailed case preparation: they knew their stuff. Judges asked for definitions and how each side stood on the issues.
A defense attorney tried to get a witness to say that we didn’t violate Iraqi citizen’s rights because we are at “war with terror,”not with the Iraqi people. When asked for facts she said, “It’s all over the news!” as if that proved it.
Serving as Lead Prosecutors were Michael Hughey, Mike Price and Liz Borsavage. Candace Broady also conducted some direct examination. Lead Defense is Frankie A. DeJesus, along with Matt Harris and Jessica Lance.
Day 2 of the U.S. vs Bush continues Thursday, Nov 29, from 9:30 – 11:00 a.m. at the Morgan Center, Room 308. The day’s agenda includes the presentation of defense witnesses, rebuttal witnesses and closing arguments. This landmark APSU event is open to the public.
Judge Walters asks a question
Photos by Debbie Boen