Nine years ago today, the Bush administration decided that international law does not apply to prisoners of war. It was a watershed moment in US history, resulting in a policy of torture that pervaded and darkened the Bush years, and inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad.
To mark that grim anniversary, two men who claim to have been victims of torture filed official complaints in Geneva, Switzerland, seeking a ruling on universal jurisdiction.
If the court sides with their complaints, US President George W. Bush likely would not face arrest; he would not, however, enjoy free travel around the world.
That was evidenced over the weekend, when the media speculated on why the former president canceled a trip to Switzerland. Bush was to be the keynote speaker at Keren Hayesod's annual dinner on February 12 in Geneva.
While Swiss officials said that Bush would still enjoy a certain diplomatic immunity as a former head of state, the local political climate posed a greater threat of repeating the riots Geneva saw during the G8 summit in Evian.
The complaints, officially lodged Monday, ask the General Prosecutor of the Canton of Geneva to investigate evidence of a torture policy within the Bush administration.
Numerous administration officials, including President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have personally admitted to ordering or carrying out the torture of prisoners, with "harsh interrogation tactics" such as simulated drowning, beatings, sleep deprivation, sensory deprecation, drugging, sexual humiliation and other forms of physical and psychological torture. And it wasn't just government employees: private contractors were accused as well.
"Waterboarding is torture, and Bush has admitted, without any sign of remorse, that he approved its use," Katherine Gallagher, an attorney with the US-based nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a media advisory. "The reach of the Convention Against Torture is wide – this case is prepared and will be waiting for him wherever he travels next. Torturers – even if they are former presidents of the United States – must be held to account and prosecuted. Impunity for Bush must end."
The World Organization against Torture has said that Switzerland is obliged under both domestic and international law to open an inquiry for acts of torture against any individual on its territory complicit in such crimes.
"There are no laws that provide an exception for former head of states," it said in a statement Thursday.
Gavin Sullivan, a program manager with the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, put it even more simply: "Bush is a torturer and deserves to be remembered as such. He bears ultimate responsibility for authorizing the torture of thousands of individuals at places like Guantánamo and secret CIA ‘black sites’ around the world. As all states are obliged to prosecute such torturers, Bush has good reason to be very worried."
Read the complete "preliminary indictment for torture" of George W. Bush online, here (PDF).
This video is from Democracy Now, broadcast Friday, Jan. 7, 2011.