George Bush has done a pretty good job of positioning himself as an “elder statesman” in the United States—at least by comparison with Dick Cheney—but the rest of the world has not forgotten the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush-Cheney interregnum.
So the forty-third president will not be jetting off to Switzerland next week, as had been expected.
Bush was supposed to be the star attraction at a fund-raising gala in Geneva February 12. But the news that the former president would be in Switzerland set off a flurry of legal filings—and calls by members of the Swiss parliament—that sought to have Bush arrested upon arrival on torture charges.
Bush has defended the use of waterboarding and other outlawed interrogation techniques in his autobiography, Decision Points, and public statements, effectively admitting that he and his aides approved acts that are banned by the Convention on Torture, the 1987 international pact prohibiting cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment to which the United States and Switzerland are signatories.
The New York–based Center for Constitutional Rights and European human rights groups had planned to submit a 2,500-page complaint against Bush to legal authorities in Geneva Monday. The complaint details mistreatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and was to be brought under the Convention Against Torture on behalf of two men who have been held by the United States—Majid Khan, who remains at Guantánamo, and Sami al-Hajj, a former Al Jazeera cameraman, who was released in 2008.
In addition, a conservative Swiss parliamentarian, Dominique Baettig, had requested that the Swiss federal government arrest of Bush on war crimes charges.
Organizers of the gala event claimed that Bush cancelled his trip in order to avoid protests that might turn violent. But the organizers of the protests, well-known activists on human rights and global justice issues, had actually proposed a symbolic protest that involved nothing more than tossing shoes at the hotel where Bush was scheduled to appear.
Geneva, home to numerous international agencies and tribunals, is arguably more experienced with managing protests than most cities on the planet. The notion that a Bush visit would have been anything more than an annoyance for the gendarmes, and for the broader community, is comic.
Bush decided not to make the trip because, in the words of Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch: “He’s avoiding the handcuffs.”
“President Bush has admitted he ordered waterboarding which everyone considers to be a form of torture under international law. Under the Convention against Torture, authorities would have been obliged to open an investigation and either prosecute or extradite George Bush,” explained Brody, a leading international human rights lawyer who has pursued some of the world’s most brutal war criminals and torturers.
In a statement issued over the weekend, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which still plans to issue its 2,500-page complaint to the media Monday, declared: “Whatever Bush or his hosts say, we have no doubt he canceled his trip to avoid our case. 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.”