An American human rights organization says it plans to take action around former President George W. Bush’s plans to speak at an economic conference near Vancouver, Canada, in October.
The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is claiming credit for the cancellation of Bush’s visit to Switzerland last week where he was to speak at a dinner in Geneva.
However, event organizers said they canceled the visit because of security concerns and the risk of violence after left-wing groups called for mass protests against the former president.
CCR and Amnesty International had planned to file a criminal complaint in Geneva against Bush for personally authorizing waterboarding—where water is poured over an immobilized person’s face to simulate drowning—of terrorism suspects.
“Whatever Bush or his hosts say, we have no doubt he canceled his trip to avoid our case,” CCR said in a statement.
CCR alleges waterboarding is a form of torture, and says former presidents do not enjoy special immunity under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which both Canada and the United States are signatories.
“The reach of the Convention Against Torture is wide—this case is prepared and will be waiting for him wherever he travels next,” the statement said.
CCR lawyer Katherine Gallagher said that as Bush’s visit to Canada draws closer, “we will see what actions we will take.”
“I think we have to strategize and think that through with colleagues up in Canada,” she told the Georgia Straight newspaper in Vancouver. “It’s the next visit that we’ve heard about and we’re going to be following up and seeing what we know about it and preparing for it.”
Both Bush and Bill Clinton are scheduled to be featured speakers at the fourth annual Surrey Regional Economic Summit on Oct. 20, outside of Vancouver.
In his book “Decision Points,” released last November, the 43rd U.S. president defended his approval of using waterboarding as an interrogation method on individuals in U.S. custody.
“The enhanced interrogation program complied with the Constitution and all applicable laws, including those that ban torture,” he wrote.
“No doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts assured the CIA that it did no lasting harm.”
In an interview with NBC’s “Today” program, Bush said his lawyers advised him that the practice “did not fall within the anti-torture act.”
When asked whether it would be legal for a captured American soldier to be waterboarded by another country, Bush replied, “All I ask is that people read the book.”
According to National Post columnist Barbara Kay, waterboarding has not been used since 2005, and before that it was used sparingly.
“In fact, in the whole CIA program, fewer than 100 people were subjected to deep interrogation, and of those, fewer than a third were subjected to unusually harsh techniques of any kind. And of those, a grand total of three detainees were waterboarded (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaeda’s chief operational planner, who reportedly gave up reams of valuable information as a result),” Kay wrote.
The reach of the Convention Against Torture is wide—this case is prepared and will be waiting for him wherever he travels next. — Center for Constitutional Rights
Kay cited several high level officials who assert the interrogation method is effective, including Dennis Blair, President Obama’s national intelligence director, and former CIA Director George Tenet.
“I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than [what] the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us,” Tenet said.
In addition to filing the first cases representing men detained at Guantanamo, CCR has filed cases seeking accountability for torture by Bush administration officials in Germany and France. The organization is also involved in ongoing cases in Spain in collaboration with the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
According to the “Bush Torture Indictment” drawn up by CCR and ECCHR, Bush “bears individual and command responsibility” for sanctioning waterboarding.
“He bears ultimate responsibility for authorizing the torture of thousands of individuals at places like Guantanamo and secret CIA ‘black sites’ around the world. As all states are obliged to prosecute such torturers, Bush has good reason to be very worried,” Gavin Sullivan, ECCHR’s solicitor and counterterrorism program manager, said in a statement.