Published On Thu Oct 13 2011
By Olivia WardForeign Affairs Reporter
Do not pass go. Do not collect $150,000.
That’s the message from international human rights groups to former U.S. president George W. Bush — a popular, high-rolling guest speaker — when he arrives in Surrey, B.C., for a regional economic conference on Thursday.
Amnesty International wants Canada to hand him a “go to jail card” on charges of directing torture during the CIA’s secret detention programs between 2002 and 2009.
Canada has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and the Canadian Criminal Code says that anyone suspected of torture can be arrested and subject to criminal investigation when he enters the country.
But it’s not going to happen, says Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
He accused Amnesty of “cherry picking” its accusations against Bush, and mounting an ideologically motivated “stunt” that “helps explain why so many respected human rights advocates have abandoned Amnesty International.”
Alex Neve, who heads Amnesty in Canada, retorted that “what motivates our work is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we apply it universally. International law makes it clear that when a country is unwilling or unable to launch a case, other countries can fill the void. No country or person should be above the law.”
Amnesty is one of several human rights organizations that contend Canada can and should launch a criminal investigation of anyone who lands in the country and is suspected of torture.
They include Human Rights Watch, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and the Canadian Centre for International Justice, which filed a 70-page legal brief summarizing “4,000 pages of evidence of the widespread use of torture under the authorization and direction of G.W. Bush as President of the U.S. and Commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces.”
They cite the U.S. use of torture techniques during Bush’s term in office, including waterboarding, allegations of torture of Guantanamo Bay detainees, and enforced disappearances.
Bush himself has admitted to authorizing waterboarding — or simulated drowning — of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and said “I’d do it again to save lives.”
Although rights groups in the U.S. have found little traction for a prosecution against Bush, other countries might use the torture convention to claim jurisdiction if he travels there.
Last February, Bush hastily cancelled a visit to Switzerland — the home of the Geneva Conventions — after arrest threats. But his former vice-president, Dick Cheney, carried on with a promotional book tour to Vancouver in September in spite of similar calls from human rights advocates to apprehend him.
For high-profile former officials on the lucrative celebrity speaking circuit, such embarrassment could be bad for business.
Talk may be cheap, but ex-presidents can command as much as $1 million a speech — a record set by Ronald Reagan in Japan. Bill Clinton tops the current list of must-haves with prices up to $350,000.
Bush, who won the Plain English Campaign’s Foot in Mouth lifetime achievement award, has pulled in some $15 million in speaking fees since leaving the Oval Office, a former spokesman told iWatch.
So far, Bush has not responded to the arrest calls in Canada, which he has visited on earlier occasions. Ottawa, which considers itself America’s closest ally, has made it clear that he has little to fear.
But according to Charlie Smith, editor of the Vancouver-based Georgia Straight, “Cheney attracted a sizeable protest here and I have a hunch this time it will be bigger.”
Plans for a protest outside the Sheraton hotel where Bush will be staying are swirling on the Internet, said Smith, who has covered Canadian attempts to arrest members of the Bush administration for several years.
“The Occupy Vancouver protest begins on Saturday,” he said. “Occupy Surrey is Thursday.”