Lawyers press for Bush arrest, as #Occupy activists set to converge in Surrey

Published in the Vancouver Observer | October 19, 2011 | Circulation: 99,000 unique monthly readers

“Once BUSH is present, if no extradition is sought, the Canadian authorities are under a positive legal obligation to investigate BUSH and submit the case for prosecution.”

– Canadian Centre for International Justice & Center for Constitutional Rights document

Thus concludes a 70-page legal indictment — accompanied by a staggering 4,000-page dossier — which will be filed in a Surrey, B.C. courtroom tomorrow to have former U.S. president George W. Bush arrested during his visit to the city.

The allegations, submitted in late September to Canada’s attorney general by U.S. and Canadian rights law organizations, call for the former U.S. president to be charged with torture and war crimes alleged to have been committed during his time in office. Four plaintiffs — Hassan bin Attash, Sami el-Hajj, Muhammed Khan Tumani and Murat Kurnaz — say they were tortured by the U.S. at Guantánamo Bay prison and in Afghanistan.

Bush — along with former president Bill Clinton — will be in the Lower Mainland speaking at the Surrey Regional Economic Summit. But with Amnesty International demanding his arrest and #OccupySurrey announcing demonstrations, chaotic scenes like those during former vice-president Dick Cheney‘s visit last month — when police roughed up sit-in protesters and one demonstrator was arrested for assault — may be in the works.

“When WAR CRIMINAL Bush comes to Surrey October 20th,” announced Twitter group @OccupySurrey last week, “we will meet him with a FLASH OCCUPATION. Expect us.” The group said it is meeting at 9 a.m. at the Vancouver Art Gallery before traveling to Surrey tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the  world’s largest human rights organization, claiming three million members in 150 countries, put its weight behind the campaign last week. Amnesty International says the 1987 Convention Against Torture – to which Canada is a signatory — allows and even requires members to enforce international law.

“The evidentiary record is crystal clear,” Alex Neve, executive director of Amnesty International Canada, said in an interview with Vancouver Observer. “He made policies which unleashed a range of serious rights violations, including torture. The range of violations are at the level of war crimes.”

“They constitute crimes against international law. Bush should be held accountable for his policies.”

Surrey mayor Dianne Watts – who chairs the organization behind the economic summit Bush will address – defended her invitation of the former president.

“This isn’t a political event, it’s an economic summit,” she told The Surrey Now newspaper. “It’s not about whether you like an individual, it’s about having a dialogue.”

“If you only deal with one side, you’re not learning the other half of the equation.”

The allegations include Bush’s remarks, after leaving office, that he authorized water-boarding — a form of simulated drowning — as well as dozens of secret prisons where suspects were subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ as part of the U.S. ‘War on Terror.’ These techniques, according to the documents, include exposure to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation, punching, kicking, isolation in ‘coffin’ cells for prolonged periods, threats of bad treatment, solitary confinement, and forced nudity.

Although Attorney General Rob Nicholson did not reply to the legal submissions, immigration minister Jason Kenney took his own shot at Amnesty, accusing them of staging a publicity stunt.

“Amnesty International cherry-picks cases to publicize based on ideology,” Kenney told a press conference. “This kind of stunt helps explain why so many respected human rights advocates have abandoned Amnesty International.”

When asked about Kenney’s response, Neve fired back: “The allegation we’re cherry-picking is absurd,” he said, questioning why the immigration minister became involved in the first place. “If this was a publicity stunt we wouldn’t have got all the legal dossiers in order — we would simply have put out a tersely worded press release.”

“It’s a serious legal brief.”

Gail Davidson, with Vancouver-based organization Lawyers Against the War, has been campaigning for several years to have members of the Bush administration charged with war crimes. On September 26, she was part of organizing a demonstration against Cheney’s visit to Vancouver, in which several hundred activists — some linking arms, others staging a sit-in — attempted to block speech-goers from attending the former vice-president’s event. One man, 51-year old Darren Grant Pearson, was arrested for allegedly putting a choke-hold on a Vancouver Club employee.

But politicians ordering arrests would dangerously blur the line between government and judiciary, said Andrea Reimer, a Vancouver city councillor with Vision Vancouver.

“I’m not a fan of Bush,” Reimer said. “But councillors should not be able to direct police on who to arrest — it would take away everyone’s rights.”

If Bush is to face justice, Reimer hopes that due legal process is followed — and that equally politicians do not interfere to prevent police from arresting Bush were that decision made.

“A law should apply equally to everyone, even George,” Davidson toldVancouver Observer. “[Bush and Cheney] had a fantastical notion they could do whatever they wanted.”

“Hopefully we’re coming to a point where people say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Although she is not optimistic that Bush will actually be arrested — especially considering the response of the Canadian government — Davidson believes eventually the work of her organization and others involved in this campaign will pay off.

“We might not win this time,” she said. “But we will eventually.”

She noted that an Argentinian group, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, held vigils for three decades to bring the country’s former military junta to justice for thousands of disappearances — but finally succeeded.

“Eventually we’ll get a toe-hold on prosecuting the torture [of the Bush administration],” she said. “The people in charge of our justice system are saying they don’t have to enforce the law for our friends.”

“There is no other means of preventing horrible atrocities — other than the enforcement of the rule of law.”

In February, international rights groups, including the Canadian Centre for International Justice and the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights — who compiled the legal case against Bush — took credit for his cancellation of a visit to Switzerland after they filed a similar request. In 2010, conservative London mayor Boris Johnson warned Bush he would face arrest if he visited the city: “He might never see Texas again.”

Neither the Attorney General or Mayor Dianne Watts could be reached for comment.

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