A group of international human rights organizations and experts filed a brief today before the Spanish Supreme Court, arguing that the continued failure of U.S. authorities to investigate or prosecute torture binds the Spanish judicial system to resume its inquiry into these practices.
The amicus filing in the case, which argues that international law requires Spain to act, comes only weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it had closed its investigation into the torture and death of detainees held in CIA custody, an investigation that ended without charges being brought against a single person.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed the brief with 10 additional organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organization Against Torture, and The International Commission of Jurists; and 15 individuals, including former United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Torture Manfred Nowak and Theo van Boven, and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism Martin Scheinin; retired members of the U.S. military Col. Morris D. Davis, former Chief Prosecutor for the U.S. military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, and Major General Antonio M. Taguba, author of the Taguba Report on the “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuse” at Abu Ghraib; and academics with an expertise in international law and accountability.
The brief asks the Spanish Supreme Court to overturn a decision by an investigative magistrate, upheld by a majority on appeal not to pursue a criminal case against six former officials from the Bush administration for their role in directing and implementing a systematic torture program. In April 2011, Judge Eloy Velasco of the Audiencia Nacional ordered the case transferred to the U.S. Department of Justice “for it to be continued,” after the DOJ said it was already investigating the allegations.
The case was originally filed in 2009 by the Association for the Dignity of Male and Female Prisoners of Spain. The defendants named in the complaint are David Addington, Jay S. Bybee, Douglas Feith, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes, and John Yoo.
“The United States’ claim that it has ongoing investigations related to the six named defendants in this case is simply not true. Torturers must be held accountable for their actions, and that is what we urge the Spanish Supreme Court to do in this case,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Katherine Gallagher. “The very limited and preliminary investigations related to the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody explicitly excluded the so-called “torture memos” as well as legal advice given by these men, both of which served to advance the torture program and immunize its participants. The recent decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to not charge anyone involved in the torture and death of two men held in CIA custody make clear that the U.S. has no intention whatsoever of prosecuting any government official responsible for torture.”
ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck emphasizes “the importance of the proceedings in Spain for upholding equal international legal standards worldwide. If the U.S. fails to apply the same legal standards to their administration officials as to foreign state officials, courts in third states are the right forum to prosecute these cases for the time being.”
The groups also argue that while the Department of Justice can point to some administrative investigations related to torture or a limited number of non-government employee or low-level prosecutions, the Attorney General has effectively immunized all government officials implicated in these actions from prosecution, from the lawyers who approved the torture program to those in the CIA and the military who implemented it.
Another criminal investigation against unknown perpetrators is currently pending before the Spanish Audiencia Nacional on the torture of Spanish citizens at Guantánamo.