Spanish Court Gives Go-Ahead for Guantánamo Torture Investigation to Continue

1.3.11

On Friday, the Spanish National Court (Audiencia Nacional) gave hope to those seeking to hold accountable the Bush administration officials and lawyers who authorized torture by agreeing to continue investigating allegations made by a Moroccan-born Spanish resident, Lahcen Ikassrien, that he was tortured at Guantánamo, where he was held from 2002 to 2005.

Spanish courts are empowered to hear certain types of international cases, but following a limitation placed on the country’s universal jurisdiction laws in November 2009 (very possibly with pressure from the US), the cases in question must have a “relevant connection” to Spain. The National Court concluded that it was competent to take the case because Ikassrien had been a Spanish resident for 13 years prior to his capture, and it will be overseen by Judge Pablo Ruz, who, in June 2010, replaced the colorful and controversial Judge Baltasar Garzón, who initiated the proceedings, after Garzón fell foul of political opponents in Spain.

This is exceptionally good news, as the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been involved in this case (and in another ongoing case, aimed at the six senior Bush administration lawyers who authorized the US torture program), explained in a press release (emphasis added):

This is a monumental decision that will enable a Spanish judge to continue a case on the “authorized and systematic plan of torture and ill treatment” by US officials at Guantánamo. Geoffrey Miller, the former commanding officer at Guantánamo, has already been implicated, and the case will surely move up the chain of command. Since the US government has not only failed to investigate the illegal actions of its own officials and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, also sought to interfere in the Spanish judicial process and stop the case from proceeding, this will be the first real investigation of the US torture program. This is a victory for accountability and a blow against impunity. The Center for Constitutional Rights applauds the Spanish courts for not bowing to political pressure and for undertaking what may be the most important investigation in decades.

CCR’s reference to WikiLeaks is important, as it was revealed in a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks on December 1 last year that, in April 2009, Obama administration officials, with the help of a seemingly unlikely ally — Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who had recently been chairman of the Republican Party — met with their Spanish counterparts in an attempt to persuade them to call off the investigation into “the Bush Six,” because “the prosecutions would not be understood or accepted in the US and would have an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship” between Spain and the United States.

The day after the meeting, as I explained in an article in December:

Attorney General Conde-Pumpido “publicly stated that prosecutors will ‘undoubtedly’ not support [the] criminal complaint,” adding that he would “not support the criminal complaint because it is ‘fraudulent,’ and has been filed as a political statement to attack past [US government] policies.” He added that, “if there is evidence of criminal activ