NEW YORK (IPS/GIN) – Human rights advocates are hailing a Spanish judge’s order to pursue a criminal investigation into the actions of six George W. Bush administration lawyers for providing legal cover for torture.
The activists, who were critical of President Barack Obama’s decision not to prosecute Central Intelligence Agency operatives who tortured war-on-terror prisoners, are voicing support despite a recommendation from Spanish prosecutors that the case not go forward.
In mid-April, Spain’s attorney general, Candido Conde-Pumpido, recommended that the judge, Baltasar GarzÃ³n, should dismiss the complaint brought by human rights lawyers. A day later, the judge resisted pressure with a decision to proceed with the case.
The crusading investigative judge is the same official who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998. The attorney general encouraged the judge to let sleeping Bush administration officials lie. According to a report by the British Broadcasting Corp., Atty. Gen. Conde-Pumpido said that Judge GarzÃ³n’s proposed criminal investigation into the actions of former Bush officials for possible violations of international law has “no merit.”
The court is considering criminal action against six former Bush administration officials for reported torture at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. nationals named in the accusation include former U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales; former Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo; former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith; former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; former Justice Department official Jay S. Bybee; and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes.
It alleges the men gave legal cover to torture by claiming that the U.S. president could ignore the Geneva Conventions.
Under Spanish law, once the judge receives the prosecutor’s recommendation, he can either drop the case or open a full-blown inquiry that could lead to an indictment. It is the investigative judge, not the prosecutors, who files criminal charges.
Spanish law gives its courts jurisdiction beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes, based on a doctrine known as universal justice, though the government has recently said it hopes to limit the scope of the legal process.
One of the Spanish human rights lawyers who brought the case, Gonzalo Boye, told the Associated Press that the claim of Spanish jurisdiction was bolstered by the fact that five GuantÃ¡namo Bay inmates were citizens or residents of Spain.
But this case, if it ultimately goes forward, will have implications far beyond Spain, because arrest warrants issued in Spain will be binding on all 27 European Union member states.
Most of the men under investigation have not commented, but Mr. Feith has strongly rejected the charges and the claim that Spain has jurisdiction, saying the case was “a national insult with harmful implications.”
Human rights advocates have been unanimously supportive of Spain’s efforts to move the case forward.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the men detained by the U.S. government at GuantÃ¡namo, praised Judge Garzon’s decision to pursue a criminal investigation into the actions of six Bush administration lawyers.
Michael Ratner, CCR’s president, said, “The importance of this investigation cannot be understated. Contrary to statements by some, the Spanish investigations are not ‘symbolic.’” He noted that if and when arrest warrants are issued, all countries in the European Union will be obligated to enforce them. “The world is getting smaller for the torture conspirators.”
CCR, along with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and the International Federation of Human Rights, has tried three times, twice in Germany and once in France, to bring criminal cases in Europe against former Bush officials. The German case is still pending.
Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, said, “The only reason Spain is considering the prosecution of Americans for torture is because the United States is refusing to do so. Eric Holder must follow U.S. law and initiate criminal investigations of Bush officials who committed torture and other war crimes. Political considerations should not control our obligation under the Torture Convention to prosecute or extradite war criminals.”