Former U.S. administrators get activists all riled up

// Sasha Lakic

Former US Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton spoke at the Sheraton Hotel in Surrey on Oct. 20 as part of the the Surrey Regional Economic Summit. Attendees paid $599 to hear the former presidents discuss a “broad range of economic, business, and geo-political issues and trends,” accord- ing to a City of Surrey press release. The presence of the former US heads of state was challenged by about 200 sign-waving protesters, many of whom had come straight from the Occupy Vancouver encampment.

Efforts by Gail Davidson of Lawyers Against the War to have the police arrest Bush, due to his alleged war crimes in connection with the invasion of Iraq and detainees at Guantanamo Bay, were not successful. In a letter that Davidson sent to the Surrey RCMP, she states, “The Commander-in-Chief [Bush] and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. … There is no longer any doubt as to whether the [Bush] administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” The letter goes on to state that the RCMP has a “duty” to arrest Bush due to “complicity in the widespread use of torture by the United States.”

Around the hotel, RCMP officers secured and cordoned off much of the area, and were additionally aided by continuous circling of four helicopters. The US Secret Service was also in attendance, though it was unclear in what capacity. The protest itself remained calm except for some bickering between officers and protesters turn- ing most vicious when discussing whether pro- testers may stand on the grass surrounding the Sheraton. There were no arrests, and an attempt after the speeches to blockade the exit of the motorcades with a sit-in failed, since the parking lot could be accessed from multiple entrances.

In an Oct. 20 press release, the RCMP said it was “very pleased with the overall response from protesters” while exercising “their democratic right to free speech.”

According to Matt Eisenbrandt, the general director of the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ), Canada has a legal obligation to indict George W. Bush on grounds of the authorization of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. In this case, he refers to waterboarding, chain- ing prisoners to walls, water, food, and sleep deprivation, and “other horrific and illegal treat- ment” that four detainees of Guantanamo Bay, Hassan bin Attash, Sami el-Hajj, Muhammed Khan Tumaniand Murat Kurnazhas, were subject to, while in custody without any charges laid. Three of the above have since been released, with bin Attash still in custody.

According to the UN Convention Against Torture, torture is defined as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the in- stigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

The US has signed and agreed to the convention, but it has not been ratified in Congress, essentially making it of no effect. Canada has both signed and ratified the UN Convention Against Torture, ensuring that Canada has a legally binding obligation to extradite or prosecute perpetrators accused of torture or war crimes. Ac- cording to the protesters who are opposed to Bush, Canada is breaking international law by failing to arrest both Bush and his former Vice- President Dick Cheney, who last September was the guest of honor at the Bon Mot Book Club at the Vancouver Club. At this event there were protesters as well, who were calling for Cheney’s arrest and prosecution.

According to the latest press statement by the CCIJ, Attorney General of British Columbia, Shirley Bond, has effectively blocked the CCIJ’s indictment against Bush. She could not be contacted for comment by the Courier’s press time. Matt Eisenbrandt sees the blocking of the indictment as a purely political move by the Crown: “The AG’s office did not give any specific reasons as to why they blocked it. It’s most likely in order to maintain a friendly relationship with the US.” He reiterated that under the UN Convention Against Torture, Canada has the obligation to extradite any persons known to have authorized torture.

// Sasha Lakic, Writer
// Illustration by Arin Ringwald

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