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Spain weighs torture inquiry for 6 former Bush officials

Rights group says international laws ignored at prison

By Marlise Simons
New York Times / March 29, 2009
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LONDON - A high-level Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation against six former Bush administration officials, including former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales, on whether they violated international law by providing a legalistic framework to justify the use of torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said.

The case was sent to the prosecutor's office for review by Baltasar Garzon, the crusading investigative judge who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The official said that it was "highly probable" that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants.

While the move represents a step toward ascertaining the legal accountability of top Bush administration officials for allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners in its so-called war on terror, some US specialists experts said that even if warrants were issued their significance could be more symbolic than practical, and that it was likely that they would not lead to arrests if the officials did not leave the United States.

The complaint under review also names John C. Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who wrote secret legal opinions saying the president had the authority to circumvent the Geneva Conventions, and Douglas J. Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy.

The move was not entirely unexpected, as several human rights groups have asked judges in different countries to indict Bush administration officials.

Spain can claim jurisdiction in the case because five citizens or residents of Spain who were prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have said they were tortured there.

The five had been indicted previously. The Spanish Supreme Court overturned the conviction of one of them in 2006, saying that Guantanamo was "a legal limbo" and that no evidence obtained under torture could be valid in any of the country's courts.

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 are obliged to investigate torture cases, especially when a citizen has been abused.

The complaint was prepared by Spanish lawyers, who also relied on legal specialists in the United States and Europe, and filed by a Spanish human rights group, the Association for the Dignity of Prisoners.

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.

The other Americans named in the complaint were William J. Haynes II, former general counsel for the Department of Defense; Jay S. Bybee, Yoo's former boss at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel; and David S. Addington, who was the chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. Yoo declined to comment yesterday, saying that he had not seen or heard of the petition.

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