Former US Vice President’s Vancouver Visit Subjects him to Canadian Jurisdiction
September 24, 2011
The US has utterly failed to meet its legal obligation to investigate torture by the Bush administration, but that shouldn’t let other countries off the hook. Cheney’s visit to Vancouver is a rare opportunity to remedy this shameful failure to uphold the rule of law.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch

(Toronto) – The Canadian government should be prepared to bring criminal charges against former US Vice President Dick Cheney for his alleged role in the torture of detainees when he visits Vancouver on September 26, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today.

Overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration, including at least two cases involving Canadian citizens, obligates Canada to investigate Cheney to comply with the Convention Against Torture, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, Canadian law expressly provides for jurisdiction over an individual for torture and other crimes if the complainant is a Canadian citizen, even for offenses committed outside of Canada. Canada ratified the Convention against Torture in 1987 and incorporated its provisions into the Canadian criminal code.

“The US has utterly failed to meet its legal obligation to investigate torture by the Bush administration, but that shouldn’t let other countries off the hook,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Cheney’s visit to Vancouver is a rare opportunity to remedy this shameful failure to uphold the rule of law.”

Human Rights Watch has documented the role of senior Bush administration officials in authorizing torture of detainees, including “waterboarding” and prolonged exposure to heat and cold. The US was directly responsible or complicit in the alleged torture of at least two Canadian citizens, Maher Arar and Omar Khadr.

Cheney played a key role in the formulation of US detainee policy and was a member of the National Security Council “Principals Committee,” which approved interrogation policies. He was critical in pressing US Justice Department officials to provide authorization in mid-2002 for the use of coerced interrogation methods. Cheney’s memoir, In My Time, published in August, details his continued support of abusive interrogation techniques, which he calls “critically important … to … national security.”

“Canada’s own investigation into the Maher Arar case shows there is sufficient evidence to investigate Cheney for authorizing torture,” Roth said. “Bush, Cheney, and others authorized the abusive detention regime that Canadians and thousands of others were subjected to. They should be held accountable.”

Human Rights Watch said that the US government's failure to investigate US officials for the torture and ill-treatment of detainees undermines global efforts to press for accountability for human rights violations. President Barack Obama has repeatedly expressed a reluctance to “look backwards” at alleged crimes committed during the previous administration.

In February 2011, former President George W. Bush cancelled a trip to address a charity gala in Geneva, Switzerland after it was reported complaints were going to be filed against him with the Geneva Canton prosecutor for authorizing torture and other ill-treatment. The planned complaints, by a current and a former Guantanamo detainee, alleged beatings, shackling in stress positions, prolonged food and sleep deprivation, and extremes of heat and cold while in US custody.

“Canada should make clear that torture is a crime, not a policy option,” Roth said. “The best way to do that is to show that Canada is not a safe haven for torturers.”

Cases of Maher Arar and Omar Khadr

Maher Arar

Maher Arar was born in Syriain 1970 and immigrated to Canada at age 17. A Canadian national, he was detained in September 2002 by US authorities while in transit through John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City on his way to Montreal. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police supplied incorrect information to US officials that was used to support his detention. After holding him incommunicado for nearly two weeks, US authorities flew Arar to Jordan, where he was driven across the border and handed over to Syrian authorities, despite his statements to US officials that he would be tortured if sent there. Indeed, he was tortured during his confinement in a Syrian prison, often with cables and electrical cords, and was kept in a tiny cell. The US practice of rendering terrorist suspects abroad changed during the Bush administration, when the CIA began handing people over to their home or third countries, apparently to facilitate abusive interrogations.

Following an extensive investigation by the Canadian government, which cleared Arar of all terror connections, Canada offered him a formal apology, acknowledged playing a role in Arar’s rendition, and provided compensation of CA$10.5 million plus legal fees. The inquiry expressly concluded that Arar had been tortured in Syria. The Bush administration refused to assist the Canadian inquiry and disregarded Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s request that the US acknowledge its inappropriate conduct.

Omar Khadr
Omar Khadr was born in Canada in 1986. At age 10, his father, an al Qaeda financier, took him to Pakistan and then Afghanistan, raising him among al Qaeda fighters and using him as an interpreter. At 15, Khadr was given weapons training. On July 27, 2002, the same month that abusive interrogation techniques were deemed “lawful” by the US Department of Justice, he was inside a compound in Afghanistan with an al Qaeda cell that had been building and planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) targeting US and coalition forces. During a firefight, a grenade killed US Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer. Khadr was shot twice in the back and blinded in one eye.

US forces airlifted Khadr to Bagram air base where he was interrogated on a stretcher while receiving medical treatment and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, including being told by an interrogator that he would be sent to a prison where he would be raped. Despite his age, Khadr never received the special protections that must be extended to children under international law by US forces either during his three months of interrogation at Bagram or once he was moved to Guantanamo. In October 2010, Khadr pleaded guilty to murder before a military commission for throwing the grenade that killed Speer and was sentenced to eight additional years in prison.

On January 29, 2010, the Canadian Supreme Court in Canada (Prime Minister) v. Khadr held that the Canadian government's participation in interrogating Khadr for the purpose of assisting prosecution by the US “offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.” Although it declined to order the Canadian government to request Khadr's repatriation, holding that to do so was a matter for the executive branch, its declaratory judgment held that the breach of Khadr's rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms continued as long as Khadr was held in the US. As part of his plea agreement, Khadr’s lawyers submitted evidence that the US and Canada exchanged a series of diplomatic notes in which Canada agreed to consider favorably a request by Khadr for repatriation after completion of one year of his sentence, which will be in October 2011.