George W. Bush cancels trip, fearing arrest for torture

News from Reuters that former President George W. Bush recently cancelled a planned trip to Switzerland, possibly because he was afraid of being arrested for war crimes:

Former President George W. Bush has canceled a visit to Switzerland… due to the risk of legal action against him for alleged torture, rights groups said on Saturday. Bush was to be the keynote speaker at Keren Hayesod’s annual dinner on February 12 in Geneva. But pressure has been building on the Swiss government to arrest him and open a criminal investigation if he enters the Alpine country.

Criminal complaints against Bush alleging torture have been lodged in Geneva, court officials say… groups had also called for a protest on the day of his visit next Saturday, leading Keren Hayesod’s organizers to announce that they were cancelling Bush’s participation on security grounds — not because of the criminal complaints.

But groups including the New York-based Human Rights Watch and International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) said the cancellation was linked to growing moves to hold Bush accountable for torture, including waterboarding. He has admitted in his memoirs and television interviews to ordering use of the interrogation technique that simulates drowning.

Look, I’m not happy about the idea of an American president being put on trial for war crimes. It’s awful for the country’s reputation, undermines the dignity of the presidency, and opens a Pandora’s box of possibilities for left-wing groups to go after US officials left and right.

That being said, in the case of W, I can make an exception. While I recently wrote that he wasn’t all bad when it came to certain issues like immigration, he clearly condoned practices like waterboarding – also known as simulated drowning – and advocated for the systematic violation of the Geneva protocol. The ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques used by Bush-era intelligence officers and military personnel were exactly the same as the ‘verschärfte Vernehmung’ of the Nazi régime.  Indeed, German officers were tried at Nüremberg for less. Here’s a quote from a trial where three Germans were convicted for similar techniques:

Between 1942 and 1945, Bruns used the method of “verschärfte Vernehmung” on 11 Norwegian citizens. This method involved the use of various implements of torture, cold baths and blows and kicks in the face and all over the body. Most of the prisoners suffered for a considerable time from the injuries received during those interrogations.

Between 1942 and 1945, Schubert gave 14 Norwegian prisoners “verschärfte Vernehmung,” using various instruments of torture and hitting them in the face and over the body. Many of the prisoners suffered for a considerable time from the effects of injuries they received.

On 1st February, 1945, Clemens shot a second Norwegian prisoner from a distance of 1.5 metres while he was trying to escape. Between 1943 and 1945, Clemens employed the method of ” verschäfte Vernehmung ” on 23 Norwegian prisoners. He used various instruments of torture and cold baths. Some of the prisoners continued for a considerable time to suffer from injuries received at his hands.

If American values mean anything any more, we should apply at least the same standards to our leaders and the people who serve them as we did to the Nazis – if not more stringent ones. Hopefully, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz will one day be brought to justice. In the meantime, however, we must never forget the words of the great Edward Gibbon:

In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom.  When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.

Gibbons spoke of ancient Athens – but 21st-century America would be well-advised to heed his warning, before we have no friends, nor liberty, left.

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