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Evidence in US Government Documents Spurs Spanish Torture Investigation

Judge Baltasar Garz?n, an investigating magistrate at the National Court in Madrid, Spain, has announced that he will investigate the US torture program at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Judge Baltasar Garz?n will probe the "perpetrators, the instigators, the necessary collaborators and accomplices" to crimes of torture at the prison at the US naval base in southern Cuba, he said in his ruling, a copy of which was seen by AFP.The judge based his decision on statements by Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, known as the "Spanish Taliban" and three other former Guantanamo detainees — a Moroccan, a Palestinian and a Libyan.Garz?n said that documents declassified by the US administration and carried by US media "have revealed what was previously a suspicion: the existence of an authorised and systematic programme of torture and mistreatment of persons deprived of their freedom" that flouts international conventions.This points to "the possible existence of concerted actions by the US administration for the execution of a multitude of crimes of torture against persons deprived of their freedom in Guantanamo and other prisons including that of Bagram" in Afghanistan.

There must be many like Andrew Sullivan who are breathing an exasperated sigh of relief, saying, "If Americans Will Not Defend the Geneva Convention …"

then the rest of the civilized world will have to take a stand against the now documented war crimes of high officials in the American government…

But for Americans who value human rights and the rule of law this is also an embarrassment.

Judge Garz?n reportedly cited "documents declassified by the US administration" as giving evidence "of what previously could be intuited: an official plan of approved torture and abuse of people being held in custody while facing no charges and without the most basic rights of people who have been detained."…There was evidence that the torture allegations could bring criminal proceedings against "the different structures [involved in] the execution, command, design and authorisation of this systematic plan of torture". (source)

The overwhelming evidence in now publicly available US government documents has led Judge Garz?n to launch an investigation from Spain, but our own government has yet to make a commitment to a full and comprehensive investigation at home. We need a non-partisan US commission and we need it now.

Attorney General Holder has indicated might cooperate with the investigation of the Spanish court."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.""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.

Attorney General Holder's commitment to the rule of law is refreshing and encouraging. It would be appropriate for his own government to make lawful requests to him to investigate the existing, overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing in US interrogation policies and practices. It would also be appropriate for the US government to launch a non-partisan commission as an apparatus for gathering all of the evidence and providing the Department of Justice with a comprehensive report. While we know a great deal, there is much that still must come to light.Ultimately it will be a great disappointment if the Spanish court is the only instrument for defending the Geneva Convention and US law. The scope of Garz?n's investigation is necessarily limited to the complaints of the Spanish citizens who were detained at Guantanamo Bay. Garz?n is rightly focused on "the different structures [involved in] the execution, command, design and authorisation of this systematic plan of torture," but so far his emphasis seems to be restricted to top Bush officials and the institutions of US law that were perverted to justify and authorize torture. We know now that other institutions share the burden of responsibility—in particular the health professional institutions and especially that of psychology.Before lawyers were brought in to justify the US torture program, psychologists were called on to design and execute the program. Health professoinals who are guilty must also face prosecution for breaking the law, and they must lose their licenses for such a gross breach of their professional ethics.