[JURIST] The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the European Center for Human Rights (ECCHR) [advocacy website] on Monday urged the signatory states of the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) [text] to pursue criminal charges [press release] against former US president George W. Bush [JURIST news archive]. The call came as the rights groups announced that two criminal complaints [text, PDF] were to be filed on Tuesday in Switzerland against Bush before he canceled his February 12 trip to the country. Swiss law requires the defendant to be in the country before an investigation can be opened. The complaint was to be accompanied by extensive supporting documents [materials, PDF]. The groups claimed that Bush canceled his trip due to the impending indictment, an assertion that Bush has denied [Guardian report], and called on other signatory states to begin similar investigations against Bush. The groups urged that he is not entitled to any immunity as a former head of state under the CAT, and argued that Bush “bears individual and command responsibility for the acts of his subordinates which he ordered, authorized, condoned or otherwise aided and abetted, as well as for the violations committed by his subordinates which he failed to prevent or punish.” The CCR explained that CAT signatories, which comprise 147 countries including the US, are obligated to pursue charges:
While the US has thus far failed to comply with its obligations under the Convention Against Torture to prosecute and punish those who commit torture, all other signatories, too, are obligated to prosecute or extradite for prosecution anyone present in their territory they have a reasonable basis for believing has committed torture. If the evidence warrants, as the Bush Torture Indictment contends it does, and the US fails to request the extradition of Bush and others to face charges of torture there, CAT signatories must, under law, prosecute them for torture.
The indictment cites Bush’s recent memoir Decision Points as establishing his individual responsibility. In the book, Bush admits to the personal authorization of waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Criminal investigations against Bush are ongoing in Germany, France and Spain under those countries’ universal jurisdiction statutes.
Other calls to investigate the criminal culpability of Bush and officials in his administration have been rejected consistently by US officials [JURIST report]. In November, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] urged US Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Bush for violation of the federal statute prohibiting torture [18 USC § 2340A]. Also citing his memoir, the ACLU argued that the use of waterboarding has historically been prosecuted as a crime in the US. The letter also argued that failure to investigate Bush would harm the US’s ability to advocate for human rights in other countries. Bush’s secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld [JURIST news archive] has also faced possible criminal charges in Europe, when, in 2007, a war crimes complaint was filed against him [JURIST report] in Germany for his involvement in detainee treatment. The case was later dismissed [JURIST report].