- Catherine Philp
- From:Times Online
HE WAS once mocked for his scant foreign travel. Now George W. Bush faces the prospect of a retirement confined to the United States after the cancellation of a trip to Switzerland amid fear of being prosecuted for torture.
The former president’s first trip to Europe since leaving office was called off after human rights groups lodged a complaint with the Swiss courts urging that he be prosecuted under international laws forbidding torture.
Mr Bush had been due to speak in Geneva on February 12 at a dinner for the pro-Israeli United Israel appeal. A lawyer for that organisation told Swiss media that the event had been cancelled because of the risk of violence at planned protests against Mr Bush.
But human rights groups, including the London-based Amnesty International and the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, claimed a victory in their battle to have Mr Bush prosecuted for his role in ordering terror suspects to be tortured.
The groups filed their complaint with the Swiss courts on Friday, accusing Mr Bush of torture based on the frank admission in his recent memoir, Decision Points, that he personally gave the go-ahead to the waterboarding of terror suspects held in CIA custody.
In the book Mr Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was suspected of having information about plans for future attacks against the United States.
“Damn right,” Mr Bush writes of his reply, saying that the decision had saved lives and that he would not hesitate to make it again.
Amnesty International said that on Friday it had sent prosecutors “a detailed factual and legal analysis of President Bush’s criminal responsibility for acts of torture” and concluded “that Switzerland had enough information to open a criminal investigation”.
The Centre for Constitutional Rights said the complaint, which has yet to be filed with the courts, was made on behalf of two terror suspects, Majid Khan, who is being held at Guantanamo Bay, and Sami al-Hajj, a former al-Jazeera cameraman who was released in 2008.
The 2,500-page complaint under the Convention Against Torture, is to be released today in Switzerland.
“The message from civil society is clear: if you’re a torturer, be careful in your travel plans. It’s a slow process for accountability, but we keep going,” the organisation said.
Whether any prosecution could have arisen from the complaints remains unclear. A Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters that the country’s justice ministry had concluded that Mr Bush was immune from prosecution for any alleged actions while in office. The human rights groups say there is no such immunity.
Amnesty said Switzerland was legally obliged to investigate if Mr Bush entered the country and to prosecute if grounds were found. Legal experts say it is unlikely that Swiss prosecutors would have been able to act swiftly enough to move to an arrest during Mr Bush’s brief visit. But the threat of an embarrassing diplomatic incident may have led to the decision to cancel the entire event.
Amnesty said: “Anywhere he travels, President Bush could face investigation and potential prosecution for his responsibility for torture and other crimes in international law.”
The situation raises parallels with that faced by Israeli officials such as the former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who was forced to cancel a trip to Britain after a complaint was lodged in court over alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza. British police would have been obliged to arrest her. The same could be true of Mr Bush if human rights groups were to pursue a complaint against him in British courts.