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Human Rights Groups Ask Canada To Arrest President George W. Bush

<p>Oct. 7, 2001: President George W. Bush poses for a photo in the Treaty Room of the White House after announcing airstrikes on on Afghanistan.</p>
Hillery Smith Garrison

Oct. 7, 2001: President George W. Bush poses for a photo in the Treaty Room of the White House after announcing airstrikes on on Afghanistan.

Ahead of an appearance at an economic summit in British Columbia, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Canada to "arrest and prosecute" former President George W. Bush.

"Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former President Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture," Susan Lee, Americas Director at Amnesty International said in a statement. "A failure by Canada to take action during his visit would violate the U.N. Convention against Torture and demonstrate contempt for fundamental human rights."

Both organizations made the call yesterday and today, the Canadian government dismissed Amnesty's call. The Vancouver Sun reports that the government in Ottawa said "there was no chance" of an arrest:

"Amnesty International cherrypicks cases to publicize based on ideology. This kind of stunt helps explain why so many respected human rights advocates have abandoned Amnesty International," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.

Kenney noted in an email that in the past, Amnesty had not asked for Canada to bar former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, even though the rights organization itself said he had presided over "arbitrary arrests, detention, and criminal prosecution."

Amnesty International said President Bush authorized the use of "waterboarding" during the CIA's "secret detention program between 2002 and 2009."

In its press release, the group added:

The CIA Inspector General found that Zayn al Abidin Muhammed Husayn (known as Abu Zubaydah) and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were subjected, between them, to at least 266 applications of waterboarding while in detention between 2002 and 2003.

Amnesty International's submission also highlights further evidence of torture and other crimes under international law committed against detainees held under US military custody in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Human Rights Watch made similar claims saying "there is overwhelming evidence that Bush and other senior administration officials authorized and implemented a regime of torture and ill-treatment of hundreds of detainees in U.S. custody..."

Stateside, the calls have been dismissed. The conservative National Review ran a piece with this headline: "Amnesty International Descends into Madness."

And Elliott Abrams at the Council on Foreign Relations writes a piece that's more deliberate in coming to the same conclusion.

Abrams, who has worked under Republicans and Democrats, first points to Amnesty and HRW's double standards, saying the organizations "have never expressed similar sentiments about Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, or Hassan Nasrallah..."

Then he adds:

This is a sad development, for human rights violations are rampant in many countries and principled international human rights organizations are surely needed. What is not needed is the kind of "activism" that tries to bar our former president and vice president (and similarly, Israeli officials) from traveling. This is a travesty of human rights activity, and an insult to democratic countries that live under the rule of law and must defend themselves from war and terror. When "human rights organizations" become merely a part of the trendy international Left, the cause of human rights is deeply damaged.

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.