No Comment — December 1, 2010, 3:51 pm

The Madrid Cables

In Spain, the WikiLeaks disclosures have dominated the news for three days now. The reporting has been led by the level-headed El País, with its nationwide competitor, Público, lagging only a bit behind. Attention has focused on three separate matters, each pending in the Spanish national security court, the Audiencia Nacional: the investigation into the 2003 death of a Spanish cameraman, José Cuoso, as a result of the mistaken shelling of Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel by a U.S. tank; an investigation into the torture of Spanish subjects held at Guantánamo; and a probe into the use of Spanish bases and airfields for extraordinary renditions flights, including the one which took Khaled El-Masri to Baghdad and then on to Afghanistan in 2003.

These cables reveal a large-scale, closely coordinated effort by the State Department to obstruct these criminal investigations. High-ranking U.S. visitors such as former Republican Party Chair Mel Martinez, Senator Judd Gregg, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano were corralled into this effort, warning Spanish political leaders that the criminal investigations would “be misunderstood” and would harm bilateral relations. The U.S. diplomats also sought out and communicated directly with judges and prosecutors, attempting to steer the cases into the hands of judges of their choosing. The cables also reflect an absolutely extraordinary rapport between the Madrid embassy and Spanish prosecutors, who repeatedly appear to be doing the embassy’s bidding. Here’s how El País summarizes the situation (my translation):

Over the last several years, the Embassy of the United States in Madrid wielded powerful resources in an extraordinary effort to impede or terminate pending criminal investigations in Spain which involved American political and military figures assumed to have been involved in incidents of torture in Guantánamo, violations of the laws of war in Iraq or kidnappings in connection with the CIA’s extraordinary renditions program. The American diplomatic legation documented these activities in a number of its thousands of secret documents, both formally classified or marked as confidential, to which El País had access. The American ambassador between 2005 and 2009, Eduardo Aguirre, an appointee of the Bush Administration, personally directed most of these efforts targeting the Spanish Government or the Spanish judicial authorities, and the secret cables note that he reckoned with and secured the support of powerful figures in Spain in the process. Prominent among these is the Spanish attorney general, Cándido Conde-Pumpido, together with several prosecutors attached to the Audiencia Nacional, in particular the chief prosecutor, Javier Zaragoza.

The cables show that the embassy was briefed in detail about the pending cases, receiving information that was not publicly accessible and would have been known only to the prosecutors and the magistrates handling the cases. The embassy engaged Spanish authorities in detailed discussions about the specific judges handling these cases and on at least one occasion extracted a promise from prosecutors to seek to have one sensitive case—in which former U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales, former vice presidential chief of staff David Addington, John Yoo, Jay Baybee, Douglas Feith, and William J. Haynes figured as potential defendants—reassigned to a judge they considered friendlier to the United States. In fact, around the time of the cables in question the prosecutors acted just as the cable suggests they would.

The cables also reflect a high level of concern at the prospect that Spanish and German prosecutors—both looking at aspects of the kidnapping and torture of Khaled El-Masri—would share notes and begin taking action. In fact exactly this sort of cooperation occurred (as it has occurred between Spanish, German, and Italian prosecutors in several other cases involving the CIA extraordinary rendition program), and U.S. concerns that it would block their efforts were proven correct. After political pressure was applied to Germany to withdraw the arrest warrants, they were simply reissued by the Spanish magistrates, who were better shielded against political manipulation.

Diplomats routinely monitor and report on legal cases that affect national interests. These cables show that the U.S. embassy in Madrid had far exceeded this mandate, however, and was actually successfully steering the course of criminal investigations, the selection of judges, and the conduct of prosecutors. Their disclosure has created deep concern about the independence of judges in Spain and the manipulation of the entire criminal justice system by a foreign power.

I discuss the developments from Madrid this morning in a conversation with DemocracyNow’s Amy Goodman:

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