December 14, 2010, Madrid, Spain – Today, two leading human rights groups filed papers urging a Spanish judge to open a criminal investigation into the role of former Bush administration officials, including torture memo authors John Yoo and Jay Bybee, for their part in creating a legal framework that permitted the torture of detainees held in U.S. custody. The filing comes on the heels of the release of diplomatic cables by the media organization WikiLeaks that show how the U.S. pressured Spanish officials to derail the investigation.
In their filing, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Berlin based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) submitted a joint expert opinion that supplements papers filed in April of this year. CCR and ECCHR urge Judge Eloy Velasco to retain jurisdiction over the investigation due to the failure of the United States to conduct its own investigation into the torture program and the ongoing failure of the Obama administration to prosecute those responsible. A complaint had been filed against six former Bush administration officials in March 2009 alleging violations of international law, including war crimes and torture. In May 2009 and again in April 2010, Judge Velasco issued formal requests to the United States seeking information regarding any pending investigations in the U.S. that would render the Spanish complaint unnecessary. In October, Judge Velasco issued an order in which he noted the “urgency of compliance” with his earlier requests to the U.S. The Obama Administration has ignored the request, while, as the WikiLeaks cables reveal, they acted to undermine the legal process through political means and disregarded the independence of the Spanish judiciary.
“The State Department cables make it crystal clear that a culture of impunity still exists in the United States and that the U.S. sought to subvert efforts for justice in Spain in order to ensure that U.S. officials never face accountability for their involvement in serious violations of international law,” said Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “The U.S. has had more than sufficient time to respond to the Spanish court’s request for information but it is now disturbingly clear that the Obama administration not only rejects accountability but actually sought to subvert justice.”
The Madrid cables detail meetings between U.S. officials, including Madrid embassy staff and members of the United States Congress, and Spanish officials from various ministries as well as the Spanish Attorney General, with the U.S. pressing to have this case dismissed. In one of the leaked cables it is revealed that the U.S. was particularly concerned that the case would be heard by a prominent Investigating Judge, Baltasar Garzon, who is known for accepting universal jurisdiction cases. In one cable, Spain’s Chief Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza is reported to have said that “in all likelihood he would have no option but to open a case,” as “the complaint appears well-documented” but reassures that “he was in no rush to proceed with the case.” Zaragoza also said he will “argue against the case being assigned to Garzon.” The cables also detail improper interventions by U.S. officials in other cases involving the U.S. that are pending before the Spanish judiciary.
“The U.S. government seems to fear an independent justice system and tries to put European prosecutors and judges under pressure to ensure impunity for torture and rendition flights. We hope that European jurists will resist this pressure and stand up and defend their independence,” said Wolfgang Kaleck, Secretary General of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.
In the United States, the Department of Justice closed the investigation into the destruction of 92 CIA torture tapes without charging anyone with a crime; it has failed to open an investigation of torture by former U.S. officials – including against the authors of the torture memos – even when they confess that they authorized or were otherwise complicit in the torture of detainees in U.S. custody.
Madrid-based lawyer Gonzalo Boye, who has brought numerous cases under universal jurisdiction in Spanish courts, is the counsel for CCR and ECCHR in this case.
For more information on the Bush Six case in Spain, visit CCR's legal case page.
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last eight years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with an individual transferred from CIA “ghost detention” to Guantanamo. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 30 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.