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October 31, 2013
SAFE HARBOR OR ARREST? CANADA SHOULD INVESTIGATE CHENEY FOR
By Matt Eisenbrandt and Katherine Gallagher
Source: Toronto Star
On Halloween this year, Toronto will host the man who operated from the “dark side”
of U.S. policy. As vice-president of the United States, Dick Cheney was a key architect
of a post-9/11 response that featured waterboarding and other acts of torture, a
global secret detention program where people were held for years without charge,
and “extraordinary rendition,” by which innocent men such as Maher Arar were sent to
countries like Syria to be tortured. His legacy of “endless war” continues today.
Canada has previously played high-paying host to Dick Cheney, as well as his former
boss, George W. Bush. Even though they’ve left office, both men not only know they
are safe from prosecution in the United States – where President Obama early on set
out his preference for looking “forward” not back – but in Canada as well.
Dick Cheney’s $500-a-person book tour appearance in Vancouver
in September 2011 resulted in protests, with demonstrators calling for Cheney to be
banned or prosecuted as a war criminal. Instead of returning to Canada last year,
Cheney cancelled a trip to Toronto
, deeming Canada too dangerous because of the likely demonstrators that would
greet him. It’s unclear why Cheney now feels safe enough to venture north to Toronto
– for Halloween.
Bush was also met by hundreds of protestors seeking his arrest
when he spoke at a business forum in Surrey, British Columbia in October 2011. In
addition, with the support of the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) and
the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), four men who were
tortured at Guantánamo initiated a private prosecution for torture against Bush
The four men – Hassan bin Attash, Sami el-Hajj, Muhammed Khan Tumani and Murat
Kurnaz – charged Bush with overseeing a torture program in locations including
Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo and numerous prisons and CIA "black sites" around
the world. As part of this program, the men were beaten, hung from walls or ceilings,
deprived of sleep, food and water and subjected to extreme temperatures, among
other acts of abuse they endured while in U.S. custody.
Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Under the
Torture Convention, Canada is obligated to investigate and prosecute known
torturers present in its territory (or, when possible, extradite them elsewhere for
prosecution). Canada has incorporated this obligation into its domestic criminal code.
The 64-page indictment and thousands of pages of supporting material submitted by
the four tortured men clearly demonstrated that an investigation – and prosecution –
of Bush for torture was warranted.
Instead of prosecuting Bush, Canada rolled out the RCMP
to facilitate his visit – and more disturbingly, watched the Attorney General for British
Columbia immediately shut down the prosecution against him
Canada should have investigated these crimes.
Canada’s violation of its Torture Convention obligations
became an issue in 2012 when it appeared before the United Nations Committee
Against Torture, which admonished Canada
to “take all necessary measures with a view to ensuring the exercise of the universal
jurisdiction over persons responsible for acts of torture, including foreign perpetrators
who are temporarily present in Canada.”
The following November, the four men filed a complaint
with the committee against Canada for its failure to investigate and prosecute Bush.
After getting an extension, Canada finally submitted its response
on October 29. Canada did not argue that Bush enjoyed any immunity under law as a
former head of state or that the allegations of torture against him were frivolous or
politically motivated. Canada’s defence was that practically, it could not pursue an
investigation or prosecution because the authorities wouldn’t get the necessary
assistance from their close partner, the United States. Canada argued that any
evidence “of torture by the U.S. government resides, for the most part, within the very
centre of the U.S. administration and with present and former U.S. officials residing in
the United States.” That Bush enjoys safe harbour in the U.S. under the Obama
administration cannot be sufficient reason for Canada to abdicate its own
responsibility under the convention to prevent impunity.
In the weeks leading up to Cheney’s visit, human rights groups have been calling on
Canada to uphold its international obligations and investigate Cheney for torture and
war crimes. The thousands of people around the globe who have suffered under the
Bush administration’s torture and detention policies deserve no less.
With Dick Cheney’s Halloween visit, Canada has another opportunity to show torture
survivors, and the world, that it will not serve as a safe haven for torturers.
Matt Eisenbrandt is legal coordinator for the Canadian Centre for International Justice
and Katherine Gallagher is senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional