Sunday, April 05, 2009

Feith: Will He Be Forced to Run With the Bulls?

BBC recently reported that a human rights group for prisoners’ rights filed a complaint with the National Court in Madrid, Spain which accused six U.S. officials from George W. Bush’s administration with providing legal justification for torture at Guantanamo Bay. The complainants say the officials created a legal framework through which the U.S. could renege on its obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention Against Torture.

The defendants:
• Alberto Gonzales; ex-Atty General,
• Douglas Feith; former undersecretary of defense for policy,
• William J. Haynes II; former DoD general counsel,
• John C. Yoo; former DoJ lawyer whose secret legal opinions said the president (G.W.) could skirt the Geneva Conventions,
• Jay S. Bybee; Mr. Yoo’s boss a the DoJ Office of Legal Counsel, and
• David S. Addington; former chief of staff and legal adviser to VP Dick Cheney.

The complaint was put before Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who ordered Chilean madman Pinochet arrested and tried. (it's kind of a big deal when U.S. officials are put on the level with Pinochet) Judge Garzon, passed the case on to prosecutors to decide whether the case had enough merit to justify an investigation and possible arrest warrants.

The Spanish law grants its courts jurisdiction over cases whose facts have not occurred in Spain. In this case, the prosecution will argue it has jurisdiction based on the alleged torture of several Spanish citizens and residents in Guantanamo Bay.

This is not only a Spanish tactic. In the early 1990s, the U.S. enacted the Torture Victims Protection Act (28 USC 1350) an alien tort law which allows even non-US citizens to file civil suits in US federal courts to charge individuals with acting in an official capacity for any foreign nation in committing torture or killing outside the law. The law was put to use in 2008 when the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida (Miami) tried Charles Taylor’s son (Chuckie) on torture charges. He was convicted and sentenced to 97 years in federal prison.

That a foreign country claims jurisdiction over U.S. officials in torture cases such as the ones stemming from the torture at Guantanamo Bay should be no surprise to the U.S. Yet, as the hegemon that helped to institute the international regime against state-sanctioned torture and mistreatment of citizens, the U.S. (especially the former U.S. officials accused) seems appalled. Has our experiment turned into a roving Frankenstein?

The fallout of U.S. actions against countries and foreign nationals caught in the wide net cast to catch those responsible for the 9/11 attacks has been surprising to us all. First, the (widely accepted) shock and awe bombing campaign against Afghanistan to topple the Taliban resulted in (insert sarcastic tone) picking up a few combatants that were invited to Guantanamo for discussions. Then, the country was convinced that toppling Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was needed to secure the US against its WMDs. Oops. We got a few more guests for Guantanamo there and scrounged up some more through “renditions” from friendly, yet seedy, allies. (many of whom were innocent) Our seemingly “good” intentions in the initial phases of the GWOT seemed to morph into wilder and more desperate attempts to “end global terror.” As the news came out on the aforementioned actions, many thought, “Good freaking luck.”

So, now, when Spanish courts are trying to decide whether or not to hold U.S. “deciders” accountable for greasing the “machine” to allow torture, some think … “It’s about gosh darned time!” But, even if warrants are issued (officials close to the case say it is "highly probable" that it will progress), don't hold your breath for extradition to Spain. As Mr. Bashir would tell you, especially with the Obama administration's stance of not investigating too deeply into the sins of Bush officials, any warrants will be mostly symbolic ... unless you wish to travel to Spain.

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