Arrest warrants coming for 6 Bush-era officials in Madrid?

March 31, 2009

Last week the National Court in Madrid received a complaint filed on behalf of five Spanish nationals formerly detained in Guantanamo who have charged that they were tortured in U.S. custody. The complaint was referred for investigation to one of Spain’s most high-profile law enforcement officials, Judge Baltasar Garzon.

Judge Garzon is best known for bringing similar charges against the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and seeking his arrest and extradition from the United Kingdom. In 2002, Judge Garzon also sought unsuccessfully to question Henry Kissinger concerning alleged U.S. complicity in acts of state sponsored assassination carried out by Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Spanish complaint names six senior lawyers from the Bush administration: former Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Douglas Feith, the former under secretary of defense for policy. Feith went on record in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece in May 2004 in support of observing the Geneva Conventions in the context of the War on Terror and his inclusion on the list raises some intriguing questions.

The Spanish action comes at the same time as the British Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, has directed London’s Metropolitan Police Service to investigate the participation of a Security Service (MI5) officer known only as Witness B in the interrogation of former Guantanamo inmate Binyam Mohamed during his detention in Karachi in 2002.

Yet calls inside the United States for Bush administration officials to be held accountable for the abusive policies adopted as part of the global war on terror continue to fall on deaf ears in Washington. Although Judge Baltasar’s investigation is unlikely to lead to those named in the complaint appearing in a Spanish courtroom any time soon, it is nonetheless a timely reminder that crimes were committed and that those responsible have walked away from the mess they created scot free.

In the next few weeks Americans will have the opportunity to reverse this situation without looking to a foreign court to take the lead. The Senate Armed Services Committee is soon expected to re-release its damning bipartisan December 2008 report on the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody reinforced by more than 200 pages of newly declassified material not previously released to the public.

The first version of this report identified those senior officials most responsible for the detainee abuses that occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. This expanded version will lay out the evidence of their complicity in compelling detail. The Committee Chairman, Senator Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan), has already stated that he plans to refer the report to the Department of Justice. The Obama administration will then face the first great test of its campaign rhetoric. The President has said that no one in America is above the law, he will soon have the opportunity to prove it.