Mehdi Hasan and MSNBC’s Problem With Prosecute-a-President Wishcasting


At a moment when the media has reached a fever pitch in coverage of the possible, if not likely indictment of Donald Trump – with the left cautiously optimistic justice may finally be served and the right denouncing what they see as a politically charged stunt – MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan threw out commentary suggesting former President George W. Bush should also be prosecuted over the war in Iraq.

MSNBC hosts and guests, for years now, have giddily declared the walls are closing in on Trump and cheerleaded for an indictment — dating back to the Mueller probe. Hasan took that all one step further and asked his viewers: If we can prosecute Trump, why not Bush?

While Hasan, a longtime critic of the war in Iraq, is obviously both entitled to and justified in his criticism of the war, calling for Bush’s prosecution – without so much as even naming a specific crime or potential charge — only serves to justify those on the right who see politically motivated witch hunts around every corner.

Hasan’s show tweeted his monologue on Monday, writing, “It’s been 20 years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Mehdi Hasan asks: shouldn’t we be prosecuting George W. Bush over the brutal and illegal war?”

“Of course, American presidents have never been put in handcuffs,” Hasan began, offering context related to Trump’s legal woes and the historic moment facing the country.

While Hasan judiciously and fairly lays out the stakes regarding Trump and the toll it may take on the country, he quickly pivots to wishcasting about seeing another U.S. president in jail.

“Meanwhile, George W. Bush is chilling in retirement, painting up a storm. Why aren’t we having that debate about him as well? If we could talk about criminal culpability in relation to Trump, why can’t we talk about it in relation to Bush? Why the double standard?” Hasan demands.

“I mean, not even the worst of Trump’s alleged crimes, the incitement of an armed insurrection at the Capitol, come anywhere close to the death and destruction that George W. Bush brought to Iraq,” Hasan adds.

Hasan then goes on a lengthy rant accusing Bush of laying the groundwork for Trump’s presidency, “Where else did Trump get the idea that a disengaged tycoon trading on a family name brand could attain the highest office in the country?”

While Hasan wrongly compares the pre-presidency careers of Bush, who served as governor of Texas, and Trump, he accurately notes that the war in Iraq went a long way in helping turn the Republican base against the GOP establishment and traditional sources of information.

Hasan then claims Vladimir Putin used Bush’s “illegal” invasion of Iraq to justify his invasion of Ukraine, concluding, “Thanks to George W Bush and thanks to our tolerance of, our indulgence of George W Bush, America has no real standing or credibility when it comes to calling out the crimes of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine today.”

Hasan’s commentary and later interviews on the topic sparked fury online with The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols objecting: “The Russians are invading Ukraine to overthrow a democratic government and absorb Ukraine into a Russian empire. The Allied coalition in Iraq deposed a tyrant (who violated a cease-fire) and then did everything it could to restore Iraq as an independent state.”

Hasan ends by playing clips of Bush saying he does not regret removing Saddam Hussein from power — the murderous dictator Hasan deliberately omits in his analysis — and slams those on the left who in recent years have praised Bush’s character, everyone from Michelle Obama to Nancy Pelosi to Bill Clinton.

“On this 20th anniversary of his greatest crime, let us remember George W. Bush not hagiographically as the artist with paint on his hands, but more honestly, more bluntly, as the invader with blood on his hands,” Hasan concluded.

In the past, Hasan has offered a more detailed argument for why he thinks Bush committed war crimes by listing specific instances of civilian deaths in Iraq and other tragedies related to the war. However, for better or worse, Hasan’s allegations don’t include any clear statute or law that Bush broke, unlike the various allegations against Trump, which are notably related to his time as a private citizen or a candidate.

Members of the executive branch are broadly protected from litigation regarding their time in office for this very reason, so the judicial system can’t be used to punish individuals over policy disagreements — no matter how profound they may be. Perhaps the closest Bush and other officials in his administration came to prosecution was in regard to revelations of torture of detainees that came out during the Obama administration. While the Department of Justice probed the torture of detainees, evidence was found lacking and, even after an incriminating Senate report, the DOJ did not pursue charges.

Hasan’s commentary is also very unclear when he says “shouldn’t we be prosecuting George W. Bush,” who exactly the “we” is?

In terms of U.S. law, Bush sought and received Congressional authorization to use military force against Iraq. If the “we” means the International Criminal Court or foreign jurisdictions, Hasan certainly can make that case, although one would hope with the acknowledgment that U.S. military officials and soldiers could end up in the court’s crosshairs — which is of course why the U.S. doesn’t recognize its jurisdiction.

Hasan, taking a different view, gleefully wrote in 2019 that Bush “owes the rest of us a prison sentence at The Hague,” but in the 20 years since the invasion of Iraq, the ICC did not see fit to issue any such warrant, like they did last week for Putin.

As we live in a time where norms are being shattered left and right and Trump tells his base, “I am your retribution” — the American left would be better served by not adding fuel to the fire and daydreaming about former Republican presidents rotting in jail. Or, at the very least, just one at a time.

Watch the full clip above via MSNBC.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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Alex Griffing is a Senior Editor at Mediaite. Send tips via email: Follow him on Twitter: @alexgriffing