Sunday, March 29, 2009

Meanwhile, In Spain

While President Obama continues to resist any formal investigation into the violations of human rights guaranteed under US and international law by the Bush administration, a court in Spain is looking into the matter, according to the NY Times.

A Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said. ...

The move represents a step toward ascertaining the legal accountability of top Bush administration officials for allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners in the campaign against terrorism. But some American experts said that even if warrants were issued their significance could be more symbolic than practical, and that it was a near certainty that the warrants would not lead to arrests if the officials did not leave the United States.

The six officials who are the subjects of a suit filed by Spanish lawyers are Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Douglas J. Feith, William J. Haynes II, Jay S. Bybee, and David S. Addington.

The Spanish court actually has jurisdiction in the matter on several grounds, including the fact that five of that nation's residents claim they were tortured while "guests" of the US government in Guantanamo Bay. Equally important, however, is that several international conventions (to which both Spain and the US are signatories) allow for such jurisdiction:

The 98-page complaint, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, is based on the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention Against Torture, which is binding on 145 countries, including Spain and the United States. Countries that are party to the torture convention have the authority to investigate torture cases, especially when a citizen has been abused.

The potential investigation and case is certainly not breaking any new ground in international law. The same Spanish court indicted Gen. Augusto Pinochet in the past. Even the US has assumed jurisdiction over a case involving human rights violations (torture) which took place in another country and obtained a conviction:

This year for the first time, the United States used a law that allows it to prosecute torture in other countries. On Jan. 10, a federal court in Miami sentenced Chuckie Taylor, the son of the former Liberian president, to 97 years in a federal prison for torture, even though the crimes were committed in Liberia.

Last October, when the Miami court handed down the conviction, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey applauded the ruling and said: “This is the first case in the United States to charge an individual with criminal torture. I hope this case will serve as a model to future prosecutions of this type.”

Apparently Mr. Mukasey was prescient. One certainly hopes so.

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