Spanish court considering torture criminal case against former U.S. officials

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Spanish court is considering opening a criminal investigation into whether six former George W. Bush administration officials gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo Bay.

Baltasar Garzón
Image: Presidency of Argentina.

Baltasar Garzón, a Spanish judge with an international reputation for bringing cases against high-profile alleged human rights violators, sent the case to the prosecutor's office to review whether it has any merit. Among the officials identified in the potential case is former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The prosecutor's office must issue a recommendation on the merits of the case and on whether the high court has jurisdiction to pursue it. A response is expected by next month, and an official close to the case said it was "highly probable" it would go forward and lead to arrest warrants.

Spanish law allows the courts to pursue cases of torture and war crimes beyond Spanish borders. But American legal experts said the warrants, if issued, would be a largely symbolic gesture and that the officials would likely not be arrested if they did not leave the United States.

The officials are accused of providing the framework of policies and legal opinions that justified torture at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and afforded no protection under the Geneva Convention to Al-Qaeda suspects.

The charges as related to me make no sense

—Douglas J. Feith

"The charges as related to make make no sense," said Douglas J. Feith, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, who is one of the six accused former officials. "They criticize me for promoting a controversial position that I never advocated."

Captives from the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay in January 2002.

The other officials are former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, Pentagon attorney William Haynes, and Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay Bybee.

If I were them, I would search for a good lawyer

—Gonzalo Boyé

Gonzalo Boyé, a lawyer for the group, said that the officials cited had well-documented roles in approving illegal interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, which are widely regarded as torture. Spain typically investigates and prosecutes torture under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party. "If I were them, I would search for a good lawyer," said Boyé of the accused officials.

Defenders of the officials said their legal analyses, which were conducted immediately following the September 11 attacks, are now being unfairly second-guessed.

Several human rights groups have asked judges in different countries to indict Bush officials for war crimes. Judge Garzón, best known for issuing an arrest warrant for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, has himself has been outspoken about the treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

A Spanish human rights group called the Association for Dignity of Inmates filed the criminal complaint.