Amnesty: USA has failed to meet its international obligations, so Canada must prosecute Bush for torture

Amnesty International has just made public a memorandum it submitted last month to Canada’s attorney general calling on Ottawa authorities to arrest and prosecute George W. Bush, who is expected to attend an economic summit in the Canadian province of British Columbia on October 20.

“As the U.S. authorities have, so far, failed to bring former president Bush to justice, the international community must step in,” said Amnesty’s Susan Lee in a statement. “A failure by Canada to take action during his visit would violate the UN Convention Against Torture and demonstrate contempt for fundamental human rights.”

As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Canada has international obligations requiring it to arrest and prosecute the former U.S. president “for crimes under international law including torture,” Lee said.

In its memorandum, Amnesty International says that “there is enough material in the public domain – even if one were to rely only upon information released by United States authorities, and by former US President George W. Bush himself – to give rise to an obligation for Canada, should former President Bush proceed with his visit to Canada on or around 20 October 2011, to investigate his alleged involvement in and responsibility for crimes under international law, including torture.”

In its 19-page memorandum, Amnesty highlights nine key points that warrant legal action by the Canadian authorities against the former U.S. president:

1. Acts of torture (and, it may be noted, other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and enforced disappearance) were committed against detainees held in a secret detention and interrogation program operated by the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) between 2002 and 2009.

2. The CIA established this secret program under the authorization of then-President George W. Bush.

3. Since leaving office, former President George W. Bush has said that he authorized the use of a number of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against detainees held in the secret CIA program. The former President specifically admitted to authorizing the “water-boarding” of identified individuals, whose subjection to this torture technique has been confirmed.

4. Additionally, torture and other ill-treatment, and secret detention, by US forces occurred outside the confines of the CIA-run secret detention program, including against detainees held in military custody at the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, and in the context of armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

5. George W. Bush was Commander in Chief of all US armed forces at the relevant times.

6. The Administration of George W. Bush acted on the basis that he was essentially unrestrained by international or US law in determining the USA’s response to the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001. Among other things, President Bush  decided that the protections of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, including their common  article 3, would not be applied to Taleban or al-Qa’ida detainees.

7. George W. Bush, as Commander in Chief at the relevant times, if he did not directly order or authorize such crimes, at least knew, or had reason to know, that US forces were about to commit or were committing such crimes and did not take all necessary and reasonable measures in his power as Commander in Chief and President to prevent their commission or, if the crimes had already been committed, ensure that  all those who were alleged to be responsible for these crimes were brought to justice.

8. The USA has failed to conduct investigations capable of reaching former President George W. Bush, and all indications are that it will not do so, at least in the near future.

9. The facts summarized above, which are matters of public record, are sufficient to give rise to mandatory obligations for Canada under international law (including but not limited to the UN Convention against Torture), should former US President George W. Bush enter Canadian territory, to:

• launch a criminal investigation;

• arrest former President Bush or otherwise secure his presence during that investigation; and

• submit the case to competent authorities in Canada for the purposes of prosecution if it does not extradite him to another state able and willing to do so

This bold move by Amnesty International to seek prosecution in Canadian courts is not only a direct challenge to the Canadian government to live up to its international commitments, but also a not-so-subtle rebuke of the Obama administration for failing to live up to its obligations.

Both the U.S. Constitution and international law require that the current administration hold members of the previous administration accountable. They authorized policies amounting to torture.

Although it has been widely known for years that Bush and other high-ranking U.S. officials authorized torture, with even the United States Senate determining that the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody were violations of international law, thus far there has been not a single prosecution by the Obama Justice Department.

Just over a month after Barack Obama’s election, on December 11, 2008, the Senate issued a bipartisan report which found:

The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

The report concludes:

The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at [Guantanamo]. Secretary of Defense Donald

Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.

Although the top question on Obama’s transition team’s website,, was whether the Obama Justice Department would prosecute “the greatest crimes” of the Bush administration, including torture, Obama wavered, saying, “obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

“My orientation is going to be moving forward,” the president said.

The Canadian government, an unwavering U.S. ally, is responding predictably.

Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said it will be up to Canadian border officials to decide independently whether to allow Bush into the country.

Kenney blasted Amnesty for “cherry picking cases to publicize, based on ideology.”

Amnesty International is one of the most respected human rights organizations in the world, mounting campaigns against violators of human rights wherever they may be without fear or favor. Whether or not the action by Amnesty leads to a prosecution of the former U.S. president, it is a strong message that those responsible for torture and other war crimes cannot expect to live without fear of punishment.


About The Compliance Campaign

Campaigning for a United States in compliance with its international obligations. Follow on Twitter here: Facebook: Comments, article submissions or news leads are welcome at compliancecampaign [at]

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