Bush avoids charges

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has dismissed a Vancouver lawyer's attempt to prosecute George W. Bush for his alleged role in the torture of U.S. detainees in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay. On December 19, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Deborah Satanove stated in her written decision that lawyer Gail Davidson had a "political" agenda in her pursuit of the U.S. president.

"This is not a legitimate purpose for the bringing of a criminal prosecution and should not be encouraged by this court," Satanove wrote. "In my view, this amounts to an abuse of process."

Davidson is cochair of a Canadian-based group of jurists called Lawyers Against the War. Shortly after Satanove released her ruling, LAW issued a news release declaring that it will appeal the decision. LAW cochair Michael Mandel, a law professor at Osgoode Hall, told the Straight that Satanove's ruling left him with a feeling of "shock, dismay, disappointment, and incredulity".

"We want a warrant and a summons that goes Canada-wide, which is a signal for him [Bush] that he can't come to Canada," Mandel said. He added that after Bush's term expires in 2008, he can't claim any immunity.

On November 30, 2004, Davidson laid seven Criminal Code charges against Bush in Vancouver Provincial Court for aiding and abetting torture. This occurred while Bush was on an official visit to Canada, and the charges were accepted by a justice of the peace.

However on December 2, 2004, Provincial Court Judge William Kitchen ruled that Bush had diplomatic immunity and declared that the case was a "nullity". Kitchen cancelled the charges at a hearing to set a date for deciding how the process would unfold.

Earlier this year, Davidson filed documents in B.C. Supreme Court to try to overturn Kitchen's ruling; the provincial Crown responded with an objection on procedural grounds.

Satanove ruled in the Crown's favour, basing her judgment almost entirely on a statement by Davidson at the fix-a-date hearing before Kitchen. Satanove's decision quoted Davidson saying to Kitchen: "Lawyers Against the War and myself are not asking at any time for process to issue."

"Ms. Davidson admits that the only kind of process that could issue in these circumstances against Mr. Bush would be a domestic summons or warrant," Satanove wrote. "Therefore, when she made the statement that she was 'not asking at any time (my emphasis) for process to issue' she was referring to process issuing under s. 507.1 of the Code. Since the issuance of a domestic summons or warrant is the only legitimate purpose for invoking s. 507.1, and since she has admitted she is not seeking this at any time, I can only conclude that Ms. Davidson's agenda is, as I have already noted, a political one."

Mandel said that the Crown's arguments were "make-believe in the sense that they sought so hard to avoid" the issue of Bush's role in the promotion of torture. He claimed that it was "false" for the Crown to suggest that LAW didn't want Bush to face trial. "We certainly want the law enforced against torturers," Mandel said. "We don't think that George Bush is above the law. We don't think that the Canadian government should be shielding him."

Last week in the Straight, journalist Naomi Klein published a column chronicling the U.S. government's history of supporting torture dating back to just after the Second World War.