Moral Low Ground


U.N. Complaint: U.S., Spain in Illegal Collusion to Block Bush Torture Trials

A complaint filed with the United Nations Thursday by human rights groups in the United States and Europe alleges that American and Spanish government officials illegally colluded to prevent the torture trials of half a dozen Bush administration lawyers who approved the use of torture against terrorism suspects.

According to The Raw Story, the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Germany-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed the complaint with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on judiciary independence and lawyers, alleging that officials from both the Bush and Obama administrations colluded with Spanish government officials to prevent the Spanish judiciary from prosecuting the Bush lawyers under the internationally accepted legal concept of universal jurisdiction.

The U.N. complaint is based on a series of 14 secret U.S. diplomatic cables from the Bush and Obama administrations released by the whistle blowing website Wikileaks. Those cables detail efforts to illegally influence Spain’s judiciary, supposedly independent as it is in every true democracy, to stymie prosecution of the Bush lawyers.

“[We] submit that the U.S. diplomatic cables – the key documents of which are annexed to this complaint – demonstrate a coordinated effort, led by U.S. officials and involving certain senior members of the Spanish government, to obstruct and otherwise interfere with the outcome of these three cases,” the complaint states. “We maintain that the aim of this concerted action was to prejudice the outcome of these cases in favor of the defendants and thereby subvert the course of justice in Spain.”

In addition to the complaint, both CCR and ECCHR demanded that American and Spanish officials to stop trying to influence Spain’s judiciary. The groups also called on the U.N. to investigate.

Under Spanish law, courts are permitted to prosecute international crimes under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction if “there was no other competent country or international tribunal where proceedings have been initiated that constitute an effective investigation and prosecution in relation to the punishable facts.”

Universal jurisdiction, a principle of international law which allows states to claim criminal jurisdiction over persons or parties whose alleged crimes were committed outside the jurisdiction of the prosecuting state regardless of nationality, is accepted by the United States, Spain and other nations, most notably Belgium and the United Kingdom. Universal jurisdiction was used to capture and prosecute former U.S.-backed Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested in London in 1998 and tried by Spanish Judge  Baltasar Garzón, the same man who tried to bring the Bush lawyers to justice.

Those six attorneys are: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; John Yoo, a former lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), who was instrumental in drafting the OLC’s notorious “torture memos”; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; William J. Haynes II, Defense Department former general counsel; Jay S. Bybee, Yoo’s superior in the OLC, who signed off on the August 2002 “torture memos”; and David Addington, former Vice President Dick Cheney‘s Chief of Staff.

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