From ABC News:
In what may turn out to be a landmark case, a Spanish court has started a criminal investigation into allegations that six former officials in the Bush administration violated international law by creating the legal justification for torture in Guantanamo Bay.
The officials named in the 98-page complaint include former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who once famously described the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” and “obsolete.”
Others include John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer who wrote the so-called “torture memo” that justified waterboarding and other extreme interrogation methods for terror suspects.
Also named are: former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith; former General Counsel for the Department of Defense William Haynes II; Jay S. Bybee, formerly of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and David S. Addington, former chief of staff and legal advisor to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Original DVD cover.
(And yes, kids, I am just as upset as you are to find out that William Haynes II is the secret identity of Mr. Bean! )
Feith was reported to have said he was “baffled by the allegations.”
In an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal on March 7, Yoo said the Obama administration risked harming national security if it punished lawyers like himself. Why a Spanish court? Because the famous Spanish judge in the case, Balthazar Garzon, says four Spanish citizens formerly held in Guantanamo claim they were tortured there, and that Spain therefore has jurisdiction in the case.
The complaint says that the American officials violated international law, specifically the 1984 Geneva Convention Against Torture, signed by 145 countries including the United States and Spain.
It says the officials created the legal justification for torture.
Garzon has an international reputation as a crusader against human rights violations, and has been outspoken about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
One of the Spanish lawyers who drew up the complaint, Gonzalo Boye-Tucet, told ABC News that arrest warrants could be issued “within weeks, maybe even days.”
The question then would be whether the United States would allow their extradition.
Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, said he doesn’t think that will happen.
“I think it’s unlikely that the Obama administration will extradite anyone who is indicted in Spain for torture,” Roth told ABC News. “But clearly if these people travel (outside the United States) they risk arrest.”
Even if the United States won’t extradite the officials, the case could end up putting pressure on the current administration to investigate them itself, Roth said.
Prosecutions under the Torture Convention are rare. But in October 2008 a court in Miami convicted Chuckie Taylor, son of the former Liberian President Charles Taylor, and sentenced him to 97 years in prison for torture committed in Liberia.
The Bush administration praised the verdict as a great day for justice.
The case of the six Bush-era officials will almost certainly come up when President Obama meets Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero for a bilateral meeting during the Summit of G-20 leaders in London next week.
From The New York Times:
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.
Most of the officials cited in the complaint declined to comment on the allegations or could not be reached on Saturday. However their defenders have said their legal analyses and policy work on interrogation practices, conducted under great pressure after the 2001 terrorist attacks, are now being unfairly second-guessed after many years without a terrorist attack on the United States.
The court case was not entirely unexpected, as several human rights groups have been asking judges in different countries to indict Bush administration officials. One group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, had asked a German prosecutor for such an indictment, but the prosecutor declined.
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 complaint was prepared by Spanish lawyers, with help from experts in the United States and Europe, and filed by a Spanish human rights group, the Association for the Dignity of Prisoners.
The National Court in Madrid, which specializes in international crimes, assigned the case to Judge Garzón. His acceptance of the case and referral of it to the prosecutor made it likely that a criminal investigation would follow, the official said.
Gonzalo Boye, the Madrid lawyer who filed the complaint, said that the six Americans cited had had well-documented roles in approving illegal interrogation techniques, redefining torture and abandoning the definition set by the 1984 Torture Convention.
Secret memorandums by Mr. Yoo and other top administration lawyers helped clear the way for aggressive policies like waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques, which the C.I.A. director, the attorney general and other American officials have said amount to torture.
[...] Mr. Boye said that lawyers should be held accountable for the effects of their work. Noting that the association he represents includes many lawyers, he said: “This is a case from lawyers against lawyers. Our profession does not allow us to misuse our legal knowledge to create a pseudo-legal frame to justify, stimulate and cover up torture.”