Legal groups in Canada and the United States have asked Justice Minister Robert Nicholson to open a criminal investigation against former U.S. president George W. Bush.
At a news conference today at the Vancouver Public Library central branch, two lawyers explained why there is a factual and legal case to hold Bush legally accountable in Canada for torture.
Katherine Gallagher, a senior lawyer with the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights, said that a 70-page indictment and more than 4,000 pages of supporting material have been delivered to Nicholson in his role as the attorney general of Canada.
She said that this provides the legal basis for investigating and ultimately charging Bush under the Criminal Code of Canada's torture provisions. She indicated that this should occur when he visits the Vancouver suburb of Surrey on October 20 for a speaking engagement.
"Over the last 10 years, our organization, working on behalf of individual survivors of torture and individual detainees at Guantanamo Bay, has tried to seek accountability and an end to the torture program in the United States," Gallagher said. "As you all likely know, there has been no investigation and certainly no prosecution of George Bush for his individual criminal responsibility for torture. We have also tried to hold U.S. officials accountable in various European countries, including France and Germany, and we have an ongoing investigation that we are a part of in Spain."
Katherine Gallagher lays out the basis for prosecuting George W. Bush.
She emphasized that Bush admitted in his memoir last year that he authorized torture, including the waterboarding of individuals held in the then-secret CIA detention program.
"Through this program, the United States sent individuals to foreign countries and put them essentially in black sites where they were subjected to acts of torture as part of supposed interrogations," Gallagher declared. "George Bush, when asked if these men should be waterboarded, responded, 'Damn right.' Even though he made that admission, there was no investigation opened into the act of waterboarding, which our current attorney general, Eric Holder, has acknowledged is a form of torture."
Gallagher added that the Bush-approved "enhanced interrogation techniques" are recognized as acts of torture under U.S. and international law.
"George Bush also authorized individuals to be sent to foreign countries for interrogation, and this includes the extraordinary rendition program," she said. "Finally, George Bush approved the fact that the Geneva conventions would not apply to individuals being held in Guantanamo and other locations. International law and Canadian law recognize individual criminal responsibility for these acts where George Bush authorized, condoned, ordered, aided, and abetted acts of torture."
Matt Eisenbrandt, legal director of the Canadian Centre for International Justice, said that under the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Canada is required to investigate and prosecute a case if the person's country of residence refuses to take action.
"We know that the United States has no interest in prosecuting George W. Bush, so when he sets foot here, it will be Canada's obligation to do so," he said. "This is a legal requirement. This is not just a matter of policy."
Matt Eisenbrandt says Canada is obliged to charge George W. Bush when he gets off the plane in this country.
He explained that as a result of the UN convention against torture, Canada introduced provisions in the Criminal Code allowing for torture charges to proceed against those who committed them overseas. It's not a requirement that the person be Canadian—he or she merely has to set foot on Canadian soil to be subject to this type of prosecution.
"In fact, here in Canada, the government has already prosecuted one man, Désiré Munyaneza, for human-rights abuses that were committed overseas," Eisenbrandt said, adding that a second man is in custody awaiting prosecution. Both cases involved actions in Rwanda.
He noted that Bush was recently in Toronto for a private event, and was provided with security from the RCMP. Eisenbrandt also stated that former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney visited Vancouver and Calgary to promote his book.
"Despite the calls of credible human-rights organizations, there has been no action on the part of the Canadian government," he said. "The case that we are putting in front of the attorney general is designed to remedy that situation and present him with all the evidence that he needs and the legal arguments that he needs to put in the indictment."
He added that Bush's visit provides a "perfect opportunity" to show that Canada is serious about holding human-rights abusers accountable.
"In the letter to the attorney general, we have indicated that if he does not take action, we are prepared to support survivors of torture at the hands of U.S. officials in...laying an information for a private prosecution in Canadian courts," Eisenbrandt stated. "And we will support survivors of torture in taking the case directly to the courts themselves."
Under Canadian law, a private prosecution does not proceed if the attorney general of Canada chooses not to take the case after eight days.
When the Straight raised this issue, Gallagher responded: "What I would remind the justice system of Canada is they are obligated under a higher level of law as well. As a signatory to the convention against torture, the actions of the attorney general and the actions of the court will ultimately be reviewed by...the committee against torture. And there is a possibility to bring this to special rapporteurs, raising questions and concerns if this matter is dealt with as a matter of politics rather than as a matter of law. And we are committed to seeing this through and not allowing Canada to become yet another point where impunity reigns."
No member of the Vancouver mainstream media showed up at the news conference. However, it was attended by Amnesty International human-rights activists and Iraqi Canadians. One of them, Risal Shihab, told the Straight that she thinks Bush is a "mass murder" and a "war criminal".
Shihab, who left Iraq in 1999, urged the Canadian government not to allow Bush to visit this country.
"Unfortunately, 9/11 happened in the USA, but George Bush made it 24/7 for Iraqis," she said. "Imagine how many people have been killed. They don't have water. They don't have food. They don't have medicine. They don't have anything there."
Risal Shihab speaks her mind about George W. Bush.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.