A Spanish judge opened a probe into the Bush administration over alleged torture of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, pressing ahead Wednesday with a drive that Spain's own attorney general has said should be waged in the United States, if at all.
Judge Baltasar Garzon, Spain's most prominent investigative magistrate, said he is acting under this country's observance of the principle of universal justice, which allows crimes allegedly committed in other countries to be prosecuted in Spain.
He said documents declassified by the new U.S. government suggest the practice was systematic and ordered at high levels of the U.S. government.
Garzon's move is separate from a complaint by human rights lawyers that seeks charges against six specific Bush administration officials they accuse of creating a legal framework to permit torture of suspects at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. detention facilities.
Spanish prosecutors said on April 17 that any such probe should be carried out by the U.S. and recommended against it being launched in Spain. Their opinion has been endorsed by Attorney General Candido Conde-Pumpido. Garzon originally had that case, but ultimately it was transferred to another judge, who has yet to decide whether to investigate.
Acting on his own
Now, Garzon is opening a separate, broader probe that does not name any specific suspects but targets "possible material authors" of torture, accomplices and those who gave torture orders.
Garzon is acting alone, rather than in response to a complaint filed with the National Court, which is the usual procedure for universal justice probes in Spain.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking with reporters in Berlin before the investigation was announced, did not rule out cooperating with such an investigation.
"Obviously, we would look at any request that would come from a court in any country and see how and whether we should comply with it," Holder said.
"This is an administration that is determined to conduct itself by the rule of law and to the extent that we receive lawful requests from an appropriately-created court, we would obviously respond to it," he said.
Asked if that meant the U.S. would cooperate with a foreign court prosecuting Bush administration officials, Holder said he was talking about evidentiary requests, and would review any such request to see if the United States would comply.
'Plan of torture'
In a 10-page writ, Garzon said documents on Bush-era treatment of prisoners, recently declassified by the Obama administration, "reveal what had been just an intuition: an authorized and systematic plan of torture and mistreatment of persons denied freedom without any charge whatsoever and without the rights enjoyed by any detainee."
Garzon cited media accounts of the documents and said he would ask the U.S. to send the documents to him.
The judge wrote that abuses at Guantanamo and other U.S. prisons for terror suspects, such as the American air base at Bagram, Afghanistan, suggest "the existence of a concerted plan to carry out a multiplicity of crimes of torture."
He said this plan took on "almost an official nature and therefore entails criminal liability in the different structures of execution, command, design and authorization of this systematic plan of torture."
He said he also is acting on the basis of accounts by four former Guantanamo inmates who have alleged in Spanish courts that they were tortured at that U.S. prison in eastern Cuba.
All four were once accused of belonging to a Spanish al-Qaida cell but eventually cleared of the accusations. One is a Spanish citizen, another is a Moroccan citizen who has lived in Spain for more than a decade, and the other two are residents of Britain.