George Bush issued travel warning by human rights organisations
Ewen MacAskill in Washingto
Katherine Gallagher, a lawyer with the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, said: "The reach of the convention against torture is wide. This case is prepared and will be waiting for him wherever he travels next.
"Torturers, even if they are former presidents of the United States, must be held to account and prosecuted."
Although Bush has travelled freely round the world since leaving the White House in January 2009, human rights groups believe he is vulnerable to prosecution after admitting in his autobiography last November that he authorised waterboarding and other interrogation techniques.
"Waterboarding is torture, and Bush has admitted, without any sign of remorse, that he approved its use," said Gallagher, who is also vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights.
Bush's staff, as well as US embassies around the world, will have to factor into their planning of future trips whether a country is a signatory to the convention on torture, as most countries are, which should at least theoretically trigger near-automatic action by legal authorities, and negotiate with governments to ensure there will be no arrest warrants. They will also seek assurances that Bush has diplomatic immunity.
Since the arrest of the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998 over alleged murders, senior politicians linked to war, internal conflict and oppression have had to be more careful in their travel plans.
The Centre for Constitutional Rights, backed by other human rights organisations, has published a 2,500-word "indictment for torture" against Bush. It was to have been filed with a Swiss court today, but that plan had to be dropped when Bush cancelled a visit to Geneva on Saturday to deliver a speech. Under the original plan, a criminal complaint would have been brought on behalf of two former Guantánamo prisoners who claim they were tortured.
The revised document says it is a presentation of the "fundamental aspects of the case against him, and a preliminary legal analysis of liability for torture, and a response to certain anticipated defences. This document will be updated and modified as developments warrant."
The document will be used as the basis of any future warrants against Bush. It lists various examples of the use against Guantánamo detainees of waterboarding – simulated drowning – and other interrogation techniques that human rights organisations say are torture but which the Bush administration says are not.
The Centre for Constitutional Rights said all signatories to the convention on torture "are obligated to prosecute or extradite for prosecution anyone present in their territory they have a reasonable basis for believing has committed torture".
The organiser of the Bush visit, the United Israel Appeal, which helps Jews move to Israel, said the cancellation was to avoid any trouble from protesters, but the human rights organisations insist it was from fear of the arrest warrant.
In a joint statement, all the groups involved in seeking the prosecution of Bush said: "Whatever Bush or his hosts say, we have no doubt he cancelled his trip to avoid our case. The message from civil society is clear – if you're a torturer, be careful in your travel plans."
More than 60 human rights organisations and prominent individuals back the attempt to have Bush prosecuted.
Feb. 7, 2011