Bringing the Bush Six to justice

January 10, 2011

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, describes efforts to bring to justice the Bush administration officials who oversaw a system of torture.

THE CENTER for Constitutional Rights has filed papers encouraging Judge Eloy Velasco and the Spanish national court to do what the United States will not: prosecute the "Bush Six."

These are the former senior administration legal advisers, headed by then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who violated international law by creating a legal framework that materially contributed to the torture of suspected terrorists at U.S.-run facilities at Guantánamo and other overseas locations.

Our filing provides Judge Velasco with the legal framework for the prosecution of government lawyers--a prosecution that last took place during the Nuremberg trials, when Nazi lawyers who provided cover for the Third Reich's war crimes and crimes against humanity were held accountable for their complicity.

CCR would prefer to see American cases tried in American courts. But we have joined the effort to pursue the Bush Six overseas because two successive American presidents have made it clear that there will be no justice for the architects of the U.S. torture program, or any of their accomplices, on American soil.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

Thanks to the U.S. diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks, we now know why seeking justice abroad has also been fraught with difficulty--why there have been so many delays and even dismissals. The same U.S. government that will not pursue justice at home--not even when the CIA destroys 92 videotapes that show detainees being tortured, has put a heavy thumb on the scales of justice in other countries as well.

During the Bush presidency, the U.S. intervened to derail the case of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, who was abducted by the CIA in 2003 and flown to Afghanistan for interrogation as part of the U.S. "extraordinary rendition" program--until they realized they had kidnapped the wrong man and dumped el-Masri on the side of an Albanian road.

A leaked 2007 cable reveals the extent both of U.S. pressure and German collusion. In public, Munich prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 13 suspected CIA operatives while Angela Merkel's office called for an investigation. In private, the German justice ministry and foreign ministry both made it clear to the U.S. that they were not interested in pursuing the case. Later that year, then-Justice Minster Brigitte Zypries went public with her decision against attempting extradition, citing U.S. refusal to arrest or hand over the agents.

Will this toxic combination of American pressure and a European ally's acquiescence derail justice in Spain, as well?

An April 1, 2009, cable, released last month, shows Obama administration officials trying their best to stop the prosecution of the Bush Six. They fret that "the fact that this complaint targets former administration legal officials may reflect a 'stepping-stone' strategy designed to pave the way for complaints against even more senior officials" and bemoan Spain's "reputation for liberally invoking universal jurisdiction."

Chief Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza reassures the U.S. that while "in all likelihood he would have no option but to open a case," he does not "envision indictments or arrest warrants in the near future" and will "argue against the case being assigned to Garzon" (a notoriously tough judge, who has since been removed from the case).

Judge Velasco, who has since been assigned to the case, has been scrupulous in his oversight. The Spanish court has three times asked the U.S., in accordance with international law, "whether the acts referred to in this complaint are or are not being investigated or prosecuted," and if so, "to identify the prosecuting authority and to inform this court of the specific procedure by which to refer the complaints for joinder." Of course, no response to any of these requests has been received, because the Obama administration has no intention whatsoever of pursuing justice on this matter.

Democracy demands a fully functioning legal system--one that does not bend to hidden pressures and political agendas. We have faith that Judge Velasco will justify the U.S. officials' concerns about Spain's independent judiciary, and its respect for international law, and move forward with the Bush Six case.

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