In “The Prosecution of an American President,” the former Los Angeles deputy district attorney Vincent T. Bugliosi (famous for prosecuting Charles Manson) presents his case for trying George W. Bush for murder, given his pursuit of war against Iraq. He contends that the Bush White House sold a lie to the American public: that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent fatal threat. Killing is justified only when mortal peril to a person (or citizenry) looms, and in the matter of Iraq, Mr. Bugliosi argues, it didn’t.
On camera, the Harvard legal scholar Alan M. Dershowitz disputes the viability of the case, and the film’s principal sequence — a Bugliosi address to the University of California, Los Angeles, law school — has a formal rigor that proves repetitious. But there is no mistaking Mr. Bugliosi’s conviction, nor the thoroughness of his research, which largely concerns the Bush administration’s claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Theories about Mr. Bush’s motives are presented, but, Mr. Bugliosi says, prosecutors are not burdened with proving a motive.
Emotional support comes in grisly news footage: civilians being shot; gravely wounded troops; a father’s self-immolation after learning his son, a Marine, is dead. These images remind us of how American lives are used as political chess pieces, and how agonizing it is when the game’s larger objective remains unclear.