On Friday, the Spanish National Court (Audiencia Nacional) gave hope to those seeking to hold accountable the Bush administration officials and lawyers who authorized torture by agreeing to continue investigating allegations made by a Moroccan-born Spanish resident, Lahcen Ikassrien, that he was tortured at Guantánamo, where he was held from 2002 to 2005.
Spanish courts are empowered to hear certain types of international cases, but following a limitation placed on the country’s universal jurisdiction laws in November 2009 (very possibly with pressure from the US), the cases in question must have a “relevant connection” to Spain. The National Court concluded that it was competent to take the case because Ikassrien had been a Spanish resident for 13 years prior to his capture, and it will be overseen by Judge Pablo Ruz, who, in June 2010, replaced the colorful and controversial Judge Baltasar Garzón, who initiated the proceedings, after Garzón fell foul of political opponents in Spain.
This is exceptionally good news, as the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been involved in this case (and in another ongoing case, aimed at the six senior Bush administration lawyers who authorized the US torture program), explained in a press release (emphasis added):
This is a monumental decision that will enable a Spanish judge to continue a case on the “authorized and systematic plan of torture and ill treatment” by US officials at Guantánamo. Geoffrey Miller, the former commanding officer at Guantánamo, has already been implicated, and the case will surely move up the chain of command. Since the US government has not only failed to investigate the illegal actions of its own officials and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, also sought to interfere in the Spanish judicial process and stop the case from proceeding, this will be the first real investigation of the US torture program. This is a victory for accountability and a blow against impunity. The Center for Constitutional Rights applauds the Spanish courts for not bowing to political pressure and for undertaking what may be the most important investigation in decades.
CCR’s reference to WikiLeaks is important, as it was revealed in a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks on December 1 last year that, in April 2009, Obama administration officials, with the help of a seemingly unlikely ally — Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who had recently been chairman of the Republican Party — met with their Spanish counterparts in an attempt to persuade them to call off the investigation into “the Bush Six,” because “the prosecutions would not be understood or accepted in the US and would have an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship” between Spain and the United States.
The day after the meeting, as I explained in an article in December:
Attorney General Conde-Pumpido “publicly stated that prosecutors will ‘undoubtedly’ not support [the] criminal complaint,” adding that he would “not support the criminal complaint because it is ‘fraudulent,’ and has been filed as a political statement to attack past [US government] policies.” He added that, “if there is evidence of criminal activity by [US government] officials, then a case should be filed in the United States.” In the cable, officials at the US embassy in Madrid congratulated themselves for their successful involvement in the case, noting that “Conde Pumpido’s public announcement follows outreach to [Spanish government] officials to raise [the US government's] deep concerns on the implications of this case.”
This was not the end of the story, as Judge Garzón pressed ahead with the investigation in September 2009, and in April 2010 CCR became involved, seeking “to assist the court by providing analysis of various US government reports, memoranda and investigations, providing factual information regarding the treatment of specific persons detained at Guantánamo and other locations, as appropriate, and other aspects of the detention and interrogation program. CCR further intends to assist in gathering and analyzing information about specific persons believed to have ordered, directed, conspired, aided and abetted, or otherwise participated directly, indirectly or through command responsibility in the torture and other serious mistreatment of persons detained at US-run detention facilities.”
As noted above, Judge Ruz then took over the case in June, and on January 7 this year, CCR and the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), submitted a dossier to the court (PDF), detailing the involvement in torture of Maj. Gen. Geofffrey Miller, the commander of Guantánamo during part of the time that Lahcen Ikassrien was held, “which collects and analyzes the evidence demonstrating his role in the torture of detainees at Guantánamo and in Iraq,” where he was subsequently sent to “Gitmo-ize” operations at Abu Ghraib, leading to the worldwide scandal that erupted in April 2004, when photos of the abuse of prisoners first brought the horrors of the Bush administration’s widespread use of torture in the “War on Terror” into the open.
Based on the information in the dossier, CCR and ECCHR believe that there is sufficient information for the court to request that a subpoena be issued for Miller to testify before Judge Ruz, and it is this that led CCR to express the hope, in its press release, that as a result “the case will surely move up the chain of command.”
I recommend those interested in this case to read the dossier about Miller, but to provide some background to the kind of information that can be expected to emerge in connection with Lahcen Ikassrien’s detention, I’m posting, in a separate article to follow, highlights of his story, as told to El Pais in December 2006, and translated into English for Cageprisoners in 2007, plus additional information that I included in an article in November 2007.
Note: For videos of CCR attorney Katie Gallagher talking about the Spanish cases, see On Democracy Now! Andy Worthington and Katie Gallagher of CCR Discuss the Failure to Close Guantánamo, and Spanish Investigations into US Torture and Video: Forum — “WikiLeaks, State Secrets, Guantánamo and Torture” with Andy Worthington, Katie Gallagher, Pardiss Kebriaei, Leili Kashani and Jeremy Varon, New York, January 6, 2011.
Originally published on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.
Andy Worthington, a regular contributor to The Public Record, is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and the definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. He maintains a blog at andyworthington.co.uk.