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Bush cancels Swiss trip after human rights groups threaten action

February 10th, 2011

It’s no secret that former President George W. Bush has received his fair share of criticism over the years for his stance on waterboarding and torture. Last week, however, Bush tasted a new flavor of criticism. He was forced to cancel a trip to Geneva, where he was to speak at a Jewish charity dinner, after threat of legal action against him for his ordering the use of torture, specifically against suspected militants of the War on Terror being held at Guantanamo Bay.

The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights planned on filing two complaints on behalf of Majid Khan, who remains in Guantanamo, and Sami al-Hajj, a former al-Jazeera cameraman who was released in May 2008.

The organization also claims Switzerland is authorized under the UN Convention against Torture to arrest Bush for his admission of the use of waterboarding, a simulation of drowning, as a means to extract information from suspected terrorists. Both Switzerland and the United States are among the 147 countries that ratified the 1987 treaty.

In a  statement, the center claimed responsibility for Bush’s sudden cancellation, “Whatever Bush or his hosts say, we have no doubt he canceled his trip to avoid our case.”

Bush admitted in his biography, “Decision Points,” that he gave the order to waterboard suspected terrorists. In an interview with Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today Show” in November, Bush defended his stance, “Three people were waterboarded and I believe that decision saved lives.”

The visit was initially canceled by the organizers of the event because they believed the risk of public violence due to human rights groups in protest of the arrival of the former president was dangerously high. But human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, said the cancellation was caused by increasing movements calling for action to be taken against Bush because of his use of torture.

“The threatened prosecution of President Bush in Switzerland shows that other countries will act against torture even if the U.S. doesn’t,” said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch.

“The U.S. record on accountability for detainee abuse has been abysmal. The official authorization of torture by a head of state should never go unpunished,” he said.

Despite these threats, a Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Associated Press that the country’s Justice Ministry concluded Bush would be immune from such prosecution for any alleged actions during his administration. The Center for Constitutional Rights and European counterparts also filed suits against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials from Bush’s administration in Germany and France, but those cases were dismissed.

“President Bush was looking forward to speaking about freedom and offering reflections from his time in office,” David Sherzer, a spokesman for the former president, told The Washington Post.

While out of office, Bush has safely travelled to Canada, Brazil, China, Japan, South Korea and the Middle East. The visit would have been his first trip to Europe since the release of “Decision Points.”