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March/April 2011
Vol. 36, No. 2

Torture: Case builds against Bush

In early February, former President George W. Bush cancelled a trip to Geneva due to his possible detention by Swiss authorities. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights – backed by a 42-page legal document and 2,500 pages of supporting material -- planned to file charges in Switzerland against Bush for authorizing U.S. use of torture.

Under the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), signatory nations are required to investigate and prosecute all parties responsible for torture; article 5 in UNCAT requires a participating nation to establish jurisdiction over torture when those responsible are in that country's jurisdiction even if the acts were committed elsewhere. Switzerland, which signed and ratified UNCAT (as did the U.S.), is obligated to prosecute Bush if he stepped onto Swiss soil.

In Bush's memoir, he admits to answering with "damn right" when officers asked if they could waterboard detainees at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In an interview with MSNBC, Bush again admitted to permitting waterboarding and claimed a lawyer advised him it was legal. (Current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has declared publicly that waterboarding is a method of torture, however the Obama administration has not taken action to investigate members of the Bush administration for authorizing the use of torture.)

In 2010, one of the 250,000 cables released by Wikileaks revealed that U.S. diplomats pressured Spain to drop an investigation into the Bush administration's use of torture. In response, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) said, "Instead of pressuring other governments to protect our nation's dark secrets, the president should appoint a non-partisan Commission of Inquiry to fully investigate our nation's use of torture. Without a comprehensive investigation, the United States will fail to live up to its most cherished values."

Since the 1998 arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, detaining and charging a former head of state with war crimes or crimes against humanity is not unimaginable. In 1998, Pinochet, who had left office in 1990 after nearly two decades of repressive rule (which included the death or disappearance of thousands and the torture of tens of thousands), traveled to Britain for medical care. He was arrested by British officials on the request of a Spanish judge who wanted the British to extradite Pinochet to Madrid so he could to stand trial on charges of torture, genocide and kidnapping.

The trial lasted 16 months; ultimately Pinochet was allowed to return to Chile due to health issues. He lived in seclusion in Chile until he died in 2006.

NRCAT action request: Stand against bigotry

U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chair of the House Homeland Security committee, has announced a series of hearings on the "radicalization of the American Muslim community."

Reps. John Dingell (D-MI) and Pete Stark (D-CA) have drafted a letter to Rep. King, requesting that he "reconsider the scope of these hearings and instead examine all forms of violence motivated by extremist beliefs, rather than unfairly focusing on just one religious group."

They write, "We agree that Congress and all levels of government have a duty to protect [the U.S.] from terrorism, whether from abroad or homegrown. We are, however, deeply concerned that the stated narrow scope and underlying premises of these hearings unfairly stigmatizes and alienates Muslim Americans [who] are an integral part of our larger society and should be treated as such, not viewed with suspicion.

"The choice between our values of inclusiveness and pluralism and our security is a false one.
"If you wish to examine violent extremism, we ask that you do so by examining violence motivated by extremist beliefs in all its forms. Singling out one religious group and blaming the actions of individuals on an entire community is not only unfair, it is unwise-- and it will not make our country any safer."

Faith in action:

Contact your member of Congress and ask him/her to sign the letter written by Reps. Dingell and Stark. Learn more at


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