Spanish public prosecutors against Guantanamo probe

17th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Spain’s attorney general fears accepting the case will turn the National Audience into a “plaything” since the six former Bush administration officials did not physically carry out the alleged torture acts.

MADRID – Spain's attorney general on Thursday recommended against an investigating magistrate going ahead with a probe of six former US officials over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.

Candido Conde Pumpido justified the move on the grounds that six former Bush administration officials cited in the court complaint, reportedly including former US attorney general Alberto Gonzales, did not physically carry out the torture acts which allegedly took place.

"If action is taken for the crime of mistreating prisoners of war, the complaint should target the actual authors of the crime," he told reporters.

Accepting the case would turn the National Audience, Spain's top criminal court, into a "plaything" to be used for political ends, he added.

The United States on Thursday declined to take a stand on Spain's attorney general’s advice.

"Really, it's an internal matter," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

He also noted that attorney general was only making a recommendation, saying: "From my understanding, the Spanish haven't made a decision as to whether to go forward."

In March, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon – famous for convincing British authorities to arrest former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998 – received a complaint against the six filed by a Spanish non-governmental group, the Association for the Dignity of Prisoners.

Garzon had asked the attorney general's office for its opinion on the case, although he is not bound by it.

The six onetime advisors of former US president George W. Bush helped create the prison camp at the US base in Guantanamo Bay, where more than 800 detainees have been held since 2002, and some allegedly tortured, the complaint argues.

The group behind the complaint says they "participated in elaborating and putting in place the legal framework of Guantanamo" that allowed torture to take place by adopting a very narrow definition of what interrogation techniques constituted torture.

President Bush has always denied that the United States tortured anyone as part of the so-called "war on terror," which Washington launched in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In addition to Gonzales, the complaint names former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo and former vice-president Dick Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes, according to US media.

Former undersecretary of defence Douglas Feith and former Justice Department official Jay S Bybee are also reportedly among those cited by the complaint.

US President Barack Obama has vowed to close the prison camp by January 2010 and has ordered individual reviews of the cases against each of the remaining prisoners.

Spain has since 2005 operated under the principle of "universal jurisdiction", a doctrine that allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture, terrorism or war crimes, although the government reportedly aims to limit the scope of the legal process.

Earlier this month, Spanish public prosecutors also recommended the National Audience shelve a separate complaint against seven top Israeli military figures over a deadly bombing of Gaza in 2002, a lawsuit which angered Israel.

In that case, public prosecutors justified the move on the grounds the alleged crimes against humanity in question are already the subject of a legal procedure in Israel.

The complaint filed by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights concerns an Israeli air attack on 22 July 2002 on Gaza City which killed a suspected leader of the Islamist movement Hamas along with 14 civilians, mainly children.

AFP / Expatica

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