Monday , April 22 2024
In 'The Trial of Prisoner 043' author Terry Jastrow provocatively imagines George W. Bush being tried for war crimes because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq

Book Review: ‘The Trial of Prisoner 043’ by Terry Jastrow

A person might be forgiven if they think a book with the title The Trial of Prisoner 043 is part of the booming dystopian literature. In contrast, Terry Jastrow’s first novel posits a perhaps more idealistic view of today’s world. Prisoner 043 is so named because he’s the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush.

Jastrow imagines what may be an aspiration of a number of people: Bush on trial before the International Criminal Court for war crimes because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In doing so, he shrewdly uses the treaty creating the court, the Rome Statute, as a means of sharpening the book’s core conflict. It, in fact, moors the opening of the book.

Following an investigation by the its Office of Prosecutor, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bush. Yet the ICC doesn’t have the power of arrest; a member state must actually make the arrest. The U.S. is not a member of the ICC. How then to get a former U.S. president before the court?

British paramilitary commandos, assisted by the British government, snatch Bush on the 17th hole of St. Andrews Old Course in Scotland (a locale perhaps reflecting Jastrow’s lengthy experience producing or directing major golf championships for ABC and his 12 years as president of Jack Nicklaus Productions.) Perhaps aptly, Bush is hooded, shackled and handcuffed before being whisked away in a van, although the hood and restraints are removed when he is flown to ICC’s headquarters in The Hauge, Netherlands.

Given the political uproar Bush’s seizure creates, including the U.S. contemplating a variety of military options, elements of the ICC are conscious of public appearance. The prosecutor’s office had already picked two of its attorneys to handle the case: an American man and a woman born and raised in Fallujah, Iraq. They face off against a defense team made up of a lifelong Texas friend of Bush and two American lawyers expert in international criminal law.

After the ICC rejects challenges to its jurisdiction (in 2002 the prosecutor’s office declined to investigate alleged war crimes in Iraq because the ICC lacked jurisdiction over U.S. forces), the latest “trial of the century” begins. This is a different trial than Jastrow’s written about previously. His play, The Trial of Jane Fonda, had Fonda defending her activities during the Vietnam war in a meeting with angry Vietnam veterans. The Bush trial, though, is in a courtroom and draws so much international attention that it is broadcast and live streamed worldwide.

While the ICC’s formal procedures and rules play a role in the story, The Trial of Prisoner 043 greatly telescopes its core story. While readability requires some condensing, Jastrow’s tends toward the extreme. The trial begins within weeks of Bush’s arrest, not the months and years it actually takes.

Likewise, the trial itself takes three months. Compare that to the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Miloševic, where the prosecution took 294 days to present its case and called nearly 300 witnesses. Miloševic died before the trial ended.

Substantively, Jastrow admits that in creating the trial he is “more an aggregator of content than a writer.” Much of it is taken directly from published sources, sources he freely credits. Yet this also allows The Trial of Prisoner 043 to capsulize both sides of the debate over the beginning of the Iraq War. Jastrow’s prosecutors pull no punches, including attempting to show Bush’s criminal intent by the lies told by his administration in the run-up to the war, 260 by Bush alone. The defense, meanwhile, challenges using such a trial to second-guess a president’s national security decisions.

At the same time, the need to compress the array of information and sources creates a foible common to trial-based tales. To keep the pace moving, the attorneys tend to launch into argumentative, opinion-laced discourses wedding a number of facts. If a soliloquy precedes a question to a witness, chances are the question itself wouldn’t be allowed by the rules of evidence. This may exasperate only those familiar with trials or the law but even we find it easier to overlook in light of Jastrow’s ingenious use of the law to untangle a knotty conflict between points of view and nations.

Realistically, George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq will never lead to a war crimes trial. Yet by exploring this provocative “what if” the considerably researched The Trial of Prisoner 043 is a thought-provoking read.

About Tim Gebhart

After 30 years of practicing law to provide shelter for his family, books and dogs. Tim Gebhart is now perfecting the art of doing little more than reading, writing and sleeping.

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One comment

  1. Dr Joseph S Maresca

    There was more justification for the Operation Desert Storm by Bush 41. In Desert Storm, the military sought to get Saddam out of Kuwait quickly and leave shortly thereafter. General Colin Powell and others discussed the importance of a surgical strike and an accompanying quick withdrawal once the narrowly defined mission had been accomplished.

    The second engagement in Iraq under Bush 43 was more problematic because the capture of Saddam was easy enough. The problem came in the aftermath. A lot of details had to be coordinated carefully and apparently things didn’t work out as originally anticipated.

    Nation building is a problem. Machiavelli wrote about the problematic areas at length. Much was done to try to facilitate a smooth transfer of power but in Iraq – that’s difficult even under the best of circumstances. Maybe a wall could have been built to keep out ISIS. More could have been done to assist the government in reconstituting the overall power superstructure and dealing with accountability over the vast oil revenues.

    Our military is expert at winning wars. Nation building is something else which was done successfully with the Marshall Plan. Nation building requires a comprehensive approach, adequate funding and a rigid followup plan and execution.

    The current leadership in Iraq is probably glad to have Saddam removed and not part of the power arrangement in Iraq. Nonetheless, Iraq has been weakened – perhaps for several decades. In the meantime, Iran has grown stronger and more warlike. ISIS was an unanticipated byproduct which developed from not having a ruthless Saddam to suppress it. That was just the beginning of the complicated situation which developed once a void was created.

    Sometimes, government strategists run into the proverbial “Catch 22”. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. In the meantime, it would have been nice to have the few trillions we spent in Iraq to repair infrastructure like the Northeast Corridor of Amtrak.