- Associated Press - Sunday, February 6, 2011

GENEVA | A visit that George W. Bush planned to make to Switzerland this week was canceled after leftists called for protests and rights activists proposed legal action against the former president for the torture of terrorism suspects.

Bush spokesman David Sherzer said the two-term president was informed Friday by the United Israel Appeal that his dinner speech Saturday in Geneva had been called off.

“We regret that the speech has been canceled,” Mr. Sherzer told the Associated Press in an e-mail Saturday. “President Bush was looking forward to speaking about freedom and offering reflections from his time in office.”

Saturday’s edition of the Swiss daily Tribune de Geneve quoted the Jewish charity’s attorney, Robert Equey, as saying the visit was canceled because of the risk that protests by left-wing groups could result in violence.

“The calls to demonstrate were sliding into dangerous terrain,” Mr. Equey told the newspaper. “The organizers claimed to be able to maintain order, but warned they could not be held responsible for any outbursts.”

Protest organizers had called for each participant to each bring a shoe to the rally outside the lakeside Hotel Wilson — named in honor of former President Woodrow Wilson — where the dinner was to be held. The shoe was meant to recall the moment when an Iraqi journalist threw his footwear at Mr. Bush during a news conference in Baghdad in 2008.

Mr. Equey told Tribune de Geneve that attempts by human rights groups to submit legal complaints against Mr. Bush to Swiss prosecutors hadn’t played a part in the decision to cancel the visit.

Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, planned to ask Swiss prosecutors to open a criminal investigation against Mr. Bush over the admission that he personally authorized the waterboarding of terrorism suspects.

Legal analysts say it is unlikely that Swiss prosecutors would have had the time to examine any criminal complaint against Mr. Bush and take action, such as asking him to respond to the allegations, before he left Switzerland.

Furthermore, an initial assessment by the Swiss Justice Ministry concluded that Mr. Bush would have had immunity from prosecution for any actions he took while in office, ministry spokesman Folco Galli told the AP.

Mr. Sherzer said the former president has made several trips outside the United States since leaving office two years ago, including to South Korea, China, Japan, Brazil, Canada and the Middle East.