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Spanish AG: No torture probe of US officials

By Paul Haven
April 16, 2009
google.com

MADRID (AP) -- Spain's attorney general has rejected opening an investigation into whether six Bush administration officials sanctioned torture against terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, saying Thursday a U.S. courtroom would be the proper forum.

Candido Conde-Pumpido's remarks severely dampen the chance of a case moving forward against the Americans, including former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Conde-Pumpido said such a trial would have turned Spain's National Court "into a plaything" to be used for political ends.

"If there is a reason to file a complaint against these people, it should be done before local courts with jurisdiction, in other words in the United States," he said in a breakfast meeting with journalists.

Spanish law gives its courts jurisdiction beyond national borders in cases of torture, war crimes and other heinous offenses, based on a doctrine known as universal justice, but the government has made clear it wants to rein in the process.

Last month, a group of human rights lawyers asked Judge Baltasar Garzon, famous for indicting ex-Chilean ruler Augusto Pinochet in 1998, to consider filing charges against the six Americans. Under Spanish law, the judge then asked prosecutors for a recommendation on whether to open a full-blown probe.

National Court prosecutors have not formally announced their decision, but Conde-Pumpido is the country's top law-enforcement official and has the ultimate say. While an investigative judge like Garzon is not bound by the prosecutors' recommendation, it would be highly unusual for a case to proceed without their support.

A senior court official told The Associated Press that a formal announcement would come Friday. He said prosecutors would stop short of an outright call for dismissal of the case, but would raise a series of legal objections that would make it impossible for it to proceed in its current form.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Coming less than three months after the Bush administration left office, the case was the first of several international efforts to indict former administration officials. Human rights groups have also tried to bring suit against Bush officials in a German court.

In addition to Gonzales, the complaint named ex-Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington; Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee; and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes.

It alleged that the men -- who have become known as "The Bush Six" -- cleared the path for torture by claiming in advice and legal opinions that the president could ignore the Geneva Conventions, and by adopting an overly narrow definition of which interrogation techniques constituted torture.

But Conde-Pumpido rejected that argument, saying the case had no merit because the men did not themselves commit the alleged abuses.

"If one is dealing with a crime of mistreatment of prisoners of war, the complaint should go against those who physically carried it out," Conde-Pumpido said.

Gonzalo Boye, one of the human rights lawyers who brought the case in Spain, said the decision by Conde-Pumpido was politically motivated and set a terrible course for Spanish justice.

"The attorney general speaks of the court being turned into a plaything. Well, I don't think the attorney general's office should be turned into a plaything for politicians," Boye told AP. "It is a terrible precedent if those intellectually responsible for crimes can no longer be held accountable."

The court official told AP that in addition to raising legal doubts, prosecutors will say that Garzon should be replaced by another judge who is already investigating whether secret CIA flights to or from Guantanamo entered Spanish airspace or landed at Spanish airports.

Such a move would make it difficult for Garzon to try to keep the case alive despite prosecutors' objections, as he did in the Pinochet case.

Observers say the removal of Garzon would be another serious blow for the hopes of human rights lawyers, who saw him as being sympathetic to their cause.

Most of the American officials named in the case have remained silent since the allegations first surfaced in March. Feith, however, has called Spain's claim of jurisdiction "a national insult with harmful implications."

Former President George W. Bush has steadfastly denied the U.S. tortured anyone. The U.S. has acknowledged that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks, and a few other prisoners were waterboarded at secret CIA prisons before being taken to Guantanamo. But the Bush administration insisted that all interrogations were lawful.

Associated Press writer Jorge Sainz contributed to this report.

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