No Comment — January 18, 2012, 11:03 am

Spanish Court Resumes Gitmo Prosecution

On Friday, a judge from Spain’s national security court, the Audiencia Nacional, issued a decision directing the resumption of criminal proceedings relating to the torture and mistreatment of three prisoners held in the American detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. El País reports (my translation):

Judge Pablo Ruz of the Audiencia Nacional has reactivated a case initiated by [Judge Baltasar] Garzón relating to the torture of four Islamists, one of them the so-called “Spanish Taliban,” during their captivity at the U.S. base at Guantánamo; according to the judge the case involves crimes of torture, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

The judge concluded that there is sufficient basis to support a finding of jurisdiction for the Spanish courts to investigate the facts, as the case has a “connection relevant to Spain.” Even though the plenary chamber of the court’s criminal division has established a preference for U.S. jurisdiction in such cases, the exercise of Spanish jurisdiction would be appropriate because there is no evidence that either the U.S. or the U.K. had opened an investigation or commenced a prosecution of the crimes in question.

The case has a long history. The three former prisoners were released from custody in 2007 at the request of the British government, and were then turned over to Spain under a Spanish arrest warrant charging them with complicity in acts of terrorism. The Spanish case, brought by Judge Garzón, was dropped, and a later ruling in the Spanish Supreme Court rejected the prosecution’s reliance on statements made by the prisoners during their Guantánamo captivity, suggesting the court’s belief that the prisoners had been tortured. The court later opened preliminary inquiries into their allegations of abuse.

The court issued letters rogatory to the U.S. Justice Department requesting information about the Guantánamo prisoners’ allegations, including whether the United States had conducted any inquiry of its own. Although the Justice Department responded to another Spanish court looking at accusations against Bush Administration lawyers with a letter claiming that the cases were the subject of a pending investigation (claims sharply contested by lawyers for the victims) it defaulted on Judge Ruz’s requests, laying the grounds for the ruling reopening the case.

The court’s nineteen-page opinion focuses on questions of jurisdiction and complementarity—the “traffic rules” used by courts to determine who will proceed first in cases where multiple prosecutors have a basis for claiming jurisdiction. The opinion concludes that the Spanish citizenship of one of the three prisoners furnished the essential jurisdictional connection for Spain.

It remains unclear who might be prosecuted in the case; the opinion mentions a number of senior Bush Administration figures. Judge Ruz requested that prosecutors take a position on this issue before the case proceeds. While the Audiencia Nacional adopted a decision in January 2010 viewing the “intellectual authors” of the policy that permitted torture as the persons principally culpable, former Spanish attorney general Cándido Conde-Pumpido sharply disputed this perspective, arguing that only the persons who physically committed the acts of torture or abuse could be charged. WikiLeaks cables published in El País subsequently revealed that Conde-Pumpido had been the target of aggressive lobbying by American politicians and diplomats seeking his intervention to spike the Guantánamo prosecutions. Conde-Pumpido resigned as attorney general last month, and Spain’s new government is currently in the process of designating his successor.

The court has requested that El País turn over its cache of Spain-related WikiLeaks cables so that they may be examined in connection with the case. It has also requested formal submission of a report by Human Rights Watch studying the conditions in Guantánamo that are the subject of some of the complaints.

Submissions by lawyers for the victims strongly suggest that they are pursuing a strategy focusing on claims against Major General Geoffrey Miller, a former Guantánamo camp commander whose practices were heavily scrutinized and criticized by Congress. The lawyers have repeatedly asked for Miller to be subpoenaed and compelled to give testimony, and one of the victims has testified that Miller was the person in charge at the time he was abused.

In separate developments, a French judge has also issued letters rogatory to the Justice Department, seeking permission to travel to Guantánamo and conduct inquiries there. Le nouvel Observateur reports that Judge Sophie Clément is investigating the claims of three Frenchmen formerly held at Guantánamo, who say they were tortured and subjected to other acts of barbarity during their detentions.

As Carol Rosenberg noted in a report this past Saturday, these cases reflect European courts’ increasing tendency to conclude that the Obama Administration’s “look forward, not back” policy means that U.S. prosecutors will not meaningfully investigate or act in cases involving the torture or mistreatment of prisoners during the Bush era. Since the crimes involved are subject to universal jurisdiction—as the United States has itself long argued—this means that other nations may now conduct their own investigations and open prosecutions. This means that, far from being over, the torture investigations will now enter a new phase—one that parallels the developments following Augusto Pinochet’s rule in Chile and after Argentina’s “dirty war,” when criminal investigations were pursued largely in European courts because amnesty arrangements prevented the pursuit of justice in domestic courts.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2019

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Good Bad Bad Good·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Article
Long Shot·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ihave had many names, but as a sniper I went by Azad, which means “free” or “freedom” in Kurdish. I had been fighting for sixteen months in Kurdish territory in northern Syria when in April 2015 I was asked to leave my position on the eastern front, close to the Turkish border, and join an advance on our southwestern one. Eight months earlier, we had been down to our last few hundred yards, and, outnumbered five to one, had made a last stand in Kobanî. In January, after more than four months of fighting street-to-street and room-by-room, we recaptured the town and reversed what was, until then, an unstoppable jihadi tide. In the battles since, we had pushed ­ISIS far enough in every direction that crossing our territory was no longer a short dash through the streets but a five-hour drive across open country. As we set out to the north, I could make out the snowy peaks in southern Turkey where they say Noah once beached his ark. Below them, rolling toward us, were the wide, grassy valleys and pine forests of Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris where our people have lived for twelve thousand years.

The story of my people is filled with bitter ironies. The Kurds are one of the world’s oldest peoples and, as pioneers of agriculture, were once among its most advanced. Though the rest of the world now largely overlooks that it was Kurds who were among the first to create a civilization, the evidence is there. In 1995, German archaeologists began excavating a temple at Göbekli Tepe in northern Kurdistan. They found a structure flanked by stone pillars carved with bulls, foxes, and cranes, which they dated to around 10,000 bce. At the end of the last Ice Age, and seven thousand years before the erection of Stonehenge or the pyramids at Giza, my ancestors were living together as shamans, artists, farmers, and engineers.

Article
Constitution in Crisis·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

America’s Constitution was once celebrated as a radical and successful blueprint for democratic governance, a model for fledgling republics across the world. But decades of political gridlock, electoral corruption, and dysfunction in our system of government have forced scholars, activists, and citizens to question the document’s ability to address the thorniest issues of modern ­political life.

Does the path out of our current era of stalemate, minority rule, and executive abuse require amending the Constitution? Do we need a new constitutional convention to rewrite the document and update it for the twenty-­first century? Should we abolish it entirely?

This spring, Harper’s Magazine invited five lawmakers and scholars to New York University’s law school to consider the constitutional crisis of the twenty-­first century. The event was moderated by Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown and the author of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon.

Article
Life after Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.
—Chaucer

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Article
Power of Attorney·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In a Walmart parking lot in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2015, a white police officer named Stephen Rankin shot and killed an unarmed, eighteen-­year-­old black man named William Chapman. “This is my second one,” he told a bystander seconds after firing the fatal shots, seemingly in reference to an incident four years earlier, when he had shot and killed another unarmed man, an immigrant from Kazakhstan. Rankin, a Navy veteran, had been arresting Chapman for shoplifting when, he claimed, Chapman charged him in a manner so threatening that he feared for his life, leaving him no option but to shoot to kill—­the standard and almost invariably successful defense for officers when called to account for shooting civilians. Rankin had faced no charges for his earlier killing, but this time, something unexpected happened: Rankin was indicted on a charge of first-­degree murder by Portsmouth’s newly elected chief prosecutor, thirty-­one-year-­old Stephanie Morales. Furthermore, she announced that she would try the case herself, the first time she had ever prosecuted a homicide. “No one could remember us having an actual prosecution for the killing of an unarmed person by the police,” Morales told me. “I got a lot of feedback, a lot of people saying, ‘You shouldn’t try this case. If you don’t win, it may affect your reelection. Let someone else do it.’ ”

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A federal judge authored a 69-page ruling preventing New York City from enforcing zoning laws pertaining to adult bookstores and strip clubs.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today