A Spanish court has initiated proceedings that are likely to result in criminal charges against six top legal officials in the Bush administration for their role in crafting the justifications for the use of unlawful detention, torture and other internationally outlawed methods in the "war on terrorism."
The accused include former White House counsel and later US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who authored the infamous "torture memo" that justified waterboarding and narrowly defined torture as acts that "would result in death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions." Also charged is Yoo's former boss in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee; former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith; former General Counsel for the Department of Defense William Haynes; and David Addington, who was the former chief of staff and legal advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Jay Bybee is now a sitting justice on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and under the imminent threat of having an extradiction order issued for his arrest for his involvement in the torture of detainees in U.S. custody.
A Spanish human rights group, the Association for the Dignity of Prisoners, filed the legal case on March 17 in Spain's National Court (Audiencia Nacional). The court gave the case to Judge Baltasar Garzón, who gained international fame in 1998 for issuing an arrest order for Augusto Pinochet for the murder, disappearance and torture of Spanish citizens under his military dictatorship in Chile. Pinochet was held under house arrest in Britain for a year and a half until the British government finally rejected Spain's extradition request and allowed him to return to Chile.
Garzón has already turned the 98-page complaint over to state prosecutors for review, and lawyers close to the case have stated that it is almost inevitable that a criminal investigation will proceed, potentially resulting in orders for the arrest of the six US officials, placing them in jeopardy of facing the same fate as Pinochet if they travel abroad.
The complaint argues that Spain has jurisdiction to try the American officials under universal jurisdiction, the same principle invoked in the Pinochet case, which holds that actions so heinous that they rise to the level of crimes against humanity may be tried by any court in the world.
As in the Pinochet case, however, the complaint also anchors its claim on jurisdiction to the fact that five Spanish citizens were victims of the policies crafted and justified by the accused, having been held without charges in Guantánamo and subjected to torture.
It also argues that the US use of torture to extract confessions had forced the Spanish Supreme Court's acquittal of all five of the former Guantánamo detainees, whom Garzón himself had charged with having links to Al Qaeda. This connection provides Garzón with grounds for reopening the case and charging the six former American officials, including Justice Bybee.