Spain’s highest court ruled that a controversial case against US officials for authorizing the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay could proceed, rejecting an attempt by a Spanish prosecutor to end the investigation. The decision is a major victory for human rights activists, and a blow to the US government.

According to a cable released by Wikileaks, the Obama administration tried to kill the case, one of two being pursued by Spanish authorities. Here’s a report by the Miami Herald:

It was three months into Barack Obama’s presidency, and the administration — under pressure to do something about alleged abuses in Bush-era interrogation policies — turned to a Florida senator to deliver a sensitive message to Spain:

Don’t indict former President George W. Bush’s legal brain trust for alleged torture in the treatment of war on terror detainees, warned Mel Martinez on one of his frequent trips to Madrid. Doing so would chill U.S.-Spanish relations.

Rather than a resolution, though, a senior Spanish diplomat gave the former GOP chairman and housing secretary a lesson in Spain’s separation of powers. “The independence of the judiciary and the process must be respected,” then-acting Foreign Minister Angel Lossada replied on April 15, 2009. Then for emphasis, “Lossada reiterated to Martinez that the executive branch of government could not close any judicial investigation and urged that this case not affect the overall relationship.”

And here’s some background on the case, from the Center for Constitutional Rights:

On April 27, 2009, Judge Baltasar Garzón issued a decision opening a preliminary investigation into what he termed  “an authorized and systematic plan of torture and ill-treatment on persons deprived of their freedom without any charge and without the basic rights of any detainee, set out and required by applicable international conventions,” in US detention facilities. This decision related to the alleged torture and abuse of four former Guantánamo detainees: Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, Ikassrien Lahcen, Jamiel Abdul Latif Al Banna and Omar Deghayes. All four men had previously been the subject of a criminal case in Spain, but were subsequently acquitted because of the use of torture and other forms of serious abuse to which they had been subjected during their detention and interrogations at Guantánamo; Judge Garzón had previously issued the extradition requests for Messrs Al Banna and Deghayes. Mr Ahmed is a Spanish citizen and Mr Ikassrien had been a Spanish resident for more than 13 years. The decision presents six pages of facts related to the torture and abuse the four men suffered including being held in cells made of chicken-wire in intense heat; being subjected to constant loud music, extreme temperatures and bright lights; constant interrogations without counsel; sexual assault; forced nakedness; threats of death; and severe beatings. The preliminary investigation did not name potential defendants, but included “possible material and instigating perpetrators, necessary collaborators and accomplices.” Judge Garzón found that the facts relate to violations under the Spanish Penal Code, the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Organic Law of the Judicial Power (Article 23.4).

The principle of universal jurisdiction for prosecuting human rights abuses is grounded in the terrible consequences of impunity. If a country has the will to prosecute its own offenders, and a neutral judiciary with which to do so, foreign courts won’t take up the case.

But that is obviously not the case with the United States, where a former president has admitted publicly to personally authorizing the torture of prisoners, yet no domestic investigation was launched in order to bring him or his advisors to justice.

PS: My 2007 interview with CCR’s Michael Ratner is among my favorites: Human Rights Crusader Michael Ratner: We’ll Keep Going After Bush and Cheney When They Leave Office

Cross-posted around town.

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About the Author

Joshua Holland

I write for AlterNet. I've written a book, The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy, which I recommend. You might also consider following me on Twitter.

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