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March 26, 2012

War criminal cancels speaking engagement

Scott Stockdale

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Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has demonstrated over and over that he has no qualms about putting others in harm's way, but - as his cancelling of his Toronto appearance illustrates - he's willing to take very little risk with his own safety.

Mr. Cheney, whom the protesters denounced as a war criminal, was slated to talk about his experiences in office and the current American political situation,  at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on April 24.

Ryan Ruppert, of Spectre Live Corp., said Mr. Cheney and his daughter Elizabeth had their agent cancel their speaking engagement.

"(They) decided it was better for their personal safety they stay out of Canada," Mr. Ruppert said. And yet Canadians – unlike Americans – are not known for aggressive behaviour.

However, all is not lost. Those who bought tickets to the Cheney event can either get a full refund or exchange them for an appearance by free-speech activist, Mark Steyn.

"It's incredibly disappointing for us," said Mr. Ruppert, who was planning for as many as 5,000 people to attend the Cheneys' talk, at ticket prices ranging from $79 to $595.

Last Sept. 26, Mr. Cheney's appearance in Vancouver was marred by demonstrators, who demanded  he  be arrested for war crimes, while blocking the entrances to the exclusive Vancouver Club. As a result, Mr. Cheney had to remain holed up in the Vancouver Club for seven hours – an experience he obviously doesn't want to have to go thorough again.

However, when it comes to the suffering of others, Mr. Cheney's remarks indicate that his yardstick is very different. Referring to waterboarding, a form of near-drowning that the U.S. government has prosecuted as a war crime since at least 1901,  Mr. Cheney's said, in October 2006, that "a dunk in the water" for terrorists -- a radio interviewer's term -- is "a no-brainer for me."

In total disregard for the law, Mr. Cheney was well-aware that waterboarding and numerous other acts of torture he championed as Vice President were, in fact, illegal.

The Geneva Convention rules forbade not only torture but also, in equally categorical terms, the use of "violence," "cruel treatment" or "humiliating and degrading treatment" against a detainee "at any time and in any place whatsoever."

The War Crimes Act of 1996 made any grave breach of those restrictions a U.S. felony.  Because he was very concerned that future administrations and judges may charge him with war crimes such as torture, Mr.  Cheney called upon his general counsel David Addington for legal protection against future prosecution. The best defense against such a charge, Mr. Addington wrote, would combine a broad presidential directive for humane treatment, in general, with an assertion of unrestricted authority to make exceptions.

The vice president's counsel proposed that President Bush issue a carefully ambiguous directive. Detainees would be treated "humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of" the Geneva Conventions.

Because, like many presidents before him – and rather obviously the one after him - President Bush had little or no knowledge of such arcane concepts, he relied heavily, if not solely, on the advise of so-called experts like Mr. Addington, who had a rather  obvious political agenda and vested interest of his own.  When Mr. Bush issued his public decision two weeks later, on Feb. 7, 2002, he adopted Mr. Addington's formula verbatim.

In a 2006 radio interview Mr. Cheney said, "We don't torture." What he did not acknowledge, according to Alberto Mora, who served then as the Bush-appointed Navy general counsel, was that the new legal framework was designed specifically to avoid a ban on cruelty. In international law, Mr. Mora said, cruelty is defined as "the imposition of severe physical or mental pain or suffering." He added: "Torture is an extreme version of cruelty."

Mr. Addington, the vice president's lawyer, advocated that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it crosses the line into torture. U.S. and treaty laws forbidding any person to "commit torture," that passage stated, "do not apply" to the commander in chief, because Congress "may no more regulate the President's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield."

This is reminiscent of President Nixon’s comment during Watergate, that “if the president does it, it's legal.” Thus Cheney spent three years expunging the Geneva's Convention's Article 3, which prohibits cruel, violent, humiliating and degrading treatment, from U.S. policy.

The U.S. Supreme Court has defined cruelty as an act that "shocks the conscience" under the circumstances. Mr. Addington suggested that harsh methods would be far less shocking under circumstances involving a mass-casualty terrorist threat.

Subsequently, Mr. Cheney said, in an interview with ABC's "Nightline" on Dec. 18, 2005, that "what shocks the conscience" is to some extent "in the eye of the beholder."

Contrary to much of what Mr. Cheney had fought for, President Bush acknowledged publicly in September 2006 that the CIA maintained secret prisons overseas for senior al-Qaeda detainees. The president then announced that he had emptied the "black sites" and transferred their prisoners to Guantanamo Bay to be tried.

However, Mr.  Bush decided not to promise that there would be no more black sites -- and seven months later, the White House acknowledged that secret detention had resumed.

Judging by the groundswell of opposition against his appearance in Canada, it appears that Mr. Cheney has “shocked the conscience” of a significant number of Canadians.  Human Rights Watch urged the federal government to bring criminal charges against Mr. Cheney, accusing him of playing a role in the torture of detainees.

Don Davies, the NDP immigration critic, also argued that Mr. Cheney should not have been allowed into Canada.

Will his war crimes ever “shock the conscience” of the Harper government which continues to welcome Mr. Cheney and his ilk to Canada?

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Dotan Rousso. Holds a Ph.D. in Law—a former criminal prosecutor in Israel. Currently working as a college professor in Canada.

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