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Garzon stops at nothing

Spanish National Court investigative judge Baltasar Garzon opened an investigation on torture in Guantanamo and other prisons and initiated preliminary proceedings against “the possible authors, instigators, necessary cooperators, and accomplices,” according to a court document. These would include “members of the American air forces or military intelligence and all those who executed and/or designed a systematic torture plan and inhuman and degrading treatment against prisoners under their custody.”

This is separate from the possible probe on six former Bush administration officials for allegedly devising the legal framework to allow torture, which you can read more about here.

On that issue, the judge has yet to decide how to proceed, but Candido Conde-Pumpido, Spain’s attorney general, made clear his opposition to Spain’s taking on the case. Reports by Spanish media say members of the U.S. and Spanish governments agreed not to support the case.

Garzon’s document states that four former prisoners of Guantanamo and other detention centers reported suffering physical and psychological aggression “always under the authority of American armed forces personnel,” and it provides a detailed description of some of these practices: 50 cm by 50 cm cells; interrogations without the presence of a lawyer; constant electrical light, loud music (“American patriotic songs”) and noise to produce sleep deprivation; threats, insults, and humiliations; isolation; beatings; electrical shocks; nudity; feces spread on their bodies; chemicals that impaired breathing introduced in the cell; food deprivation; extreme hot and cold temperatures; water boarding; sexual aggression; and more.

Spanish law includes the principle of universal justice, which allows its National Court to try some crimes committed in other countries. Moreover, crimes of torture are defined in international treaties, signed by both the U.S. and Spain, such as the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture.

Garzon says documents recently declassified in the U.S. and reported by the media reveal “what it was sensed before: a systematic and authorized torture and mistreatment plan on people deprived of freedom without charges and without the prisoners’ fundamental rights set and demanded by international conventions.”

The former Guantanamo prisoners named in the document are Hamed Abderraman Ahmed, Lachen Ikassrien, Jamiel Abdultaif Al Banna and Omar Deghayes.

Hamed Abderraman, a Spanish citizen, was tried and sentenced to prison by Spain’s National Court for belonging to Al Qaeda, but the Supreme Court overturned the sentence and absolved him, deeming all evidence obtained in Guantanamo null. Later, the National Court, applying that Supreme Court’s resolution, also acquitted Lachen Ikassrien, charged with belonging to a terrorist organization.

European arrest warrants issued by Spain to the U.K. against Jamiel Abdultaif Al Banna and Omar Deghayes were canceled after doctors confirmed physical and psychological injuries. Their medical reports included depression, post-traumatic stress, hypertension, lumbar pain, arthrosis, nasal obstruction, and blindness in one eye, among other issues.

Should this investigation eventually lead to arrest warrants, Spanish commentators are skeptical the U.S. would extradite its nationals, and some question the practicality of pursuing a case like this. Others, however, hope court investigations by Spain or other European countries pressure the U.S. to open their own.