PARSIPPANY - President Bush is being tried for "crimes against civilian populations" and "inhumane treatment of prisoners" at Parsippany High School, with students arguing both sides before a five-teacher "international court of justice." The panel's verdict could come as soon as Friday.
Teacher Joseph Kyle said the "hearing"-- he preferred that term to trial -- opened on Monday in a senior advanced placement government class. The school's principal said he signed off in advance on the subject matter.
"I knew it was a sensitive topic. Morris County is a conservative county. Parsippany is a conservative district," Kyle, 37, a teacher at the high school since 1998, said on Wednesday evening.
Former county Sheriff John Fox of Parsippany denounced the weeklong hearing -- where students debated whether Bush is a war criminal and questioned classmates playing administration officials and the Army general who oversaw Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq -- as "terrible"and "disturbing."
"Those are young, impressionable minds those people have control over. We don't need those liberal academics doing what they're doing. I find that offensive," said Fox, a Republican who graduated from Parsippany High School.
Kyle declined to discuss his opinion of Bush, the war in Iraq or the U.S. response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He said he isn't trying to show up the president.
"President Bush is often tried in absentia all around the world," Kyle said.
"All we hear in the papers is, war crimes this, war crimes that -- without even hearing a defense. It would be irresponsible for a teacher to pretend that isn't happening," Kyle said.
At the high school, prosecutors rested on Wednesday following testimony from nine "witnesses," Kyle said.
The prosecution list included Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen allegedly tortured by U.S. forces; international human rights attorney Michael Ratner; Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff for former Secretary of State Colin Powell; retired CIA foreign policy analyst Ray McGovern; and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were called by the defense before the seventh-period class concluded, Kyle said.
The defense will resume its case today with eight additional witnesses and, possibly, a verdict -- decided by two English teachers, one history teacher, a guidance counselor and someone from the school's media department, Kyle said.
Morris County Freeholder Jack Schrier, a Republican, said he was "truly outraged" by the war crimes hearing.
"It's not un-American. We do have freedom of thought and freedom of speech. But we're a nation at war. Not only this teacher, but so many others in the nation, have lost sight of that," Schrier said.
High school Principal Anthony Sciaino defended Kyle.
"I think that the way he's doing it, in that it's more of a debate, makes it ideal and connects perfectly with the AP government curriculum," Sciaino said.
Kyle is no stranger to controversial topics. Starting on Tuesday, his sophomore class will put former President Andrew Jackson on trial for alleged abuses against Native Americans.
Kyle insisted that he doesn't have a partisan agenda. While teaching at Montclair High School, he conducted an impeachment trial of President Clinton while he was in office.
"There's nothing bad with exploring evidence on both sides," Kyle said.
Kyle said he received several letters from parents who were "all complimentary" of the war crimes hearing.
One thing that Kyle said he would like to keep private is the verdict.
"That decision is going to be sealed," he said, explaining that students will be told the outcome but asked not to tell others.
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