Former President George W. Bush was scheduled to go to Switzerland next week, but the trip has been called off. Bush was supposed to give an address in Geneva, on February 12, at a charity dinner in honor of the United Israel Appeal. Human rights groups were planning to protest his appearance, though, and several organizations had threatened to take legal action against Bush for allegedly approving the torture of terrorism suspects during his time in office. The official statement is that Bush canceled his trip because the Geneva demonstrations were threatening to become violent, but onlookers are wondering whether the possibility of a criminal investigation may have played a role in deterring the president.
The Players One of the groups most critical of Bush has been the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York non-profit. According to The Washington Post, the CCR, along with "several European human rights groups," was urging Swiss authorities to "open a criminal case" against Bush once he arrived in Switzerland. The CCR reportedly has a 2,500-page complaint ready to go, and will release it at a news conference on Monday. A statement from the Center reads, "Whatever Bush or his hosts say, we have no doubt he canceled his trip to avoid our case ... The message from civil society is clear: If you're a torturer, be careful in your travel plans. It's a slow process for accountability, but we keep going."
But Does Bush Just Want to Prevent Violent Protests? According to the United Israel Appeal, Bush is taking a rain check on Geneva not because he's scared of a lawsuit, but because "the calls to demonstrate were sliding into dangerous terrain," in the words of a lawyer for the organization, and "we didn't want to put people and property in Geneva at risk." The Post reports that "organizers of a rally outside the Hotel Wilson, where the speech was scheduled to take place, had called on demonstrators to each bring a shoe, an effort to echo the assault on Bush during a news conference in Baghdad in 2008 when an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at him."
Would They Even Be Able to Arrest Him? Not according to a spokesman for the Swiss Foreign Ministry, who told reporters that Bush "would have immunity from prosecution for any alleged actions while in office," as the Post puts it. The Post also notes that similar gambits in the past didn't pan out so well: "The Center, and its European partners, earlier filed suits against former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials in Germany and France. Those cases were dismissed."
Groups: Sure We Would! The CCR and its allies seem pretty confident of their case, arguing that immunity doesn't apply under the Convention Against Torture. Reuters quotes Reed Brody, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, who says that Bush is "avoiding the handcuffs... I'm surprised he would even consider visiting a country that has ratified the torture convention and which takes its responsibilities seriously." Brody adds that Bush "may enjoy some kind of impunity in the United States, but other countries will not treat him so indulgently."
Bush Is Thinking of the UIA, Not Himself Where the CCR sees a defensive maneuver, Hot Air's Jazz Shaw sees selflessness. "In the end, the most damage would not have been done to Bush, but to the charitable organization trying to conduct their fundraising," the blogger writes. "It appears that this was taken into consideration and the former president chose not to hamper their work by canceling the trip entirely."
Protip for Bush: Invest in a Wig "Clearly George W. Bush is going to need to either A) stay in Texas forever or B) grow a mustache," jokes the blogger Zandar. "Maybe if he had a hat or something. Or a book. Nobody would ever recognize him if he was wearing a beret and holding a copy of Anna Karenina. It would be the perfect disguise! 'That can't be him, he's holding Tolstoy!'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.