An upcoming Surrey economic conference has caught the attention of critics of former U.S. president George W. Bush, one of the event's key speakers.
Human rights groups, including the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, backed a recent plan to file criminal complaints in Switzerland against Bush.
The complaints focused, in part, on Bush’s approval of controversial CIA interrogation techniques that included waterboarding, which simulates drowning.
The Center for Constitutional Rights claims waterboarding is a form of torture. The group has cited the U.N. Convention Against Torture, an international treaty, in its push for potential prosecution.
However, the plan to file the complaints, on behalf of alleged torture victims, was dropped when Bush abruptly cancelled his planned visit to Switzerland.
But the human-rights groups have indicated they will keep a close eye on Bush’s future travel plans.
Katherine Gallagher, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said her group is aware Bush is slated to speak at the annual Surrey Regional Economic Summit on October 20.
“As we get closer to that date we will see what actions we’ll take,” Gallagher told the Straight by phone from New York.
“I think we have to strategize and think that through with colleagues up in Canada,” she said. “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.”
The City of Surrey could not be reached for comment.
Surrey mayor Dianne Watts has said Bush and former U.S. president Bill Clinton—the other featured speaker—will appear at the 2011 summit to share their insights on economics, business, and geopolitics.
“The Surrey Regional Economic Summit is an opportunity for us to learn more about major issues that impact our lives, our jobs and our cities,” Watts said in a statement on February 1.
Since 2008, the Surrey conference has drawn high-profile speakers including former British prime minister Tony Blair and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Bush has defended his approval of the controversial, post-9/11 CIA interrogation program.
In particular, he has said he approved the use of waterboarding on individuals in U.S. custody.
“No doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts assured the CIA that it did no lasting harm,” Bush wrote in his recently published memoir, Decision Points.
Bush wrote the interrogation program “saved lives”, adding that claims of unlawful torture at the hands of Americans were “not true”.
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