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Why George W. Bush Can Be Prosecuted Abroad For Torture

Olga Khazan |
February 8, 2011 | 8:48 p.m. PST

Senior Editor

From Truthout.org on Flickr.
From Truthout.org on Flickr.
Former President George W. Bush might be highly sought after as a keynote speaker, but if he ever travels to certain European countries he might become wanted for other reasons as well. Bush was scheduled to speak at an annual dinner in Geneva, Switzerland on February 12, but had to cancel this week because two organizations planned to file criminal complaints against him for authorizing torture in Guantanamo Bay.

"The threatened prosecution of President Bush in Switzerland shows that other countries will act against torture even if the US doesn't," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a statement. "President Bush's bold and blatant admission that he ordered waterboarding is an obvious place to begin a criminal investigation."

Under the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Switzerland, the U.S. and 145 other countries are parties, "countries are obligated to bring cases of alleged torture before their courts for prosecution whenever a suspected offender is in their territory, or extradite the accused to another jurisdiction where he will be prosecuted," the Human Rights Watch said in a release.

The two groups who filed the complaints said they will do so again next time Bush schedules a visit, since they missed their chance this time.

"The Center for Constitutional Rights and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, human rights groups that prepared the complaints, said although they did not file them because Bush cancelled his trip, they would do so at the next opportunity."

The charges were prompted by descriptions of "the regime that governed detentions at Guantánamo...the use of stress positions, manipulation of food, sleep and temperatures, forced nudity and excessive force against detainees," the Guardian reports.

That said, The Washington Post's Jeff Stein says human rights groups are being too hasty because under international indictment rules, an arrest warrant could only be issued if there was a danger that the individual could repeat the crimes.

“According to our system, one (or more) of the following circumstances must be present to issue an arrest warrant,” [Milan prosecutor Armando Spataro] told Stein. “One, danger that a person could repeat the same serious crime; two, a danger he could became a fugitive; and three, a danger he could destroy or tamper with evidence.”

Obviously, Bush can no longer waterboard anyone because he is out of office and is constitutionally prevented from holding office again.

Formerly, a Spanish court initiated criminal proceedings against six former Bush administration officials, including John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales, under the principal of universal jurisdiction - used to catch criminals abroad who are suspected of heinous crimes.

That's because most other nations consider waterboarding to be torture, a charge the Bush administration has vehemently denied. However, even the U.S. has historically looked down on the practice:

"In 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out another form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian."



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

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