Thursday, February 4, 2010

Spanish court to investigate Guantanamo torture allegations

Last May, we reported that a Spanish court was considering whether to open an investigation into the role of six Bush administration attorneys allegedly responsible for constructing a legal framework for detainee torture. At the same time the court was considering that petition, it was also debating whether to investigate allegations of torture, abuse, and inhuman and degrading treatment inflicted upon four former Guantanamo detainees. This post provides an update on the status of the Spanish court's deliberations with respect to the latter case.

Last year, Spain's National Court received complaints filed by a number of organizations regarding abuse allegedly inflicted upon four former Guantanamo detainees, including one Spanish citizen and three individuals apparently connected to Spain.

After receiving the complaints, but before opening an investigation, Judge Baltasar Garzon asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to inform him whether the U.S. government planned to investigate these allegations itself. (Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, Spain can exercise criminal jurisdiction over a case involving the commission of serious human rights crimes by U.S. citizens only if the U.S. government refuses, or fails, to take action.)

After waiting seven months with no reply, Judge Garzon has now decided to open an investigation into the abuses inflicted upon the four former detainees.

At a time when the Obama administration has failed to take significant steps towards investigating the numerous claims of detainee abuse and torture alleged over the past several years, Judge Garzon's decision represents a bold step toward accountability for human rights violations.

At the same time, Judge Garzon's decision should serve as a reminder to the Obama administration of its own obligation, under international law, to investigate and prosecute serious human rights abuses. Under universal jurisdiction principles, Judge Garzon is able to pursue this investigation because the U.S. government has so far refused, or failed, to take action.

Despite the administration's purported commitment to transparency and accountability, it has failed to apply these principles in the area of human rights.

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