Spain to proceed with torture prosecution of Bush lawyers: Report

Share on Facebook By Daniel Tencer
Published: September 8, 2009

A Spanish judge has decided to go ahead with the prosecution of six Bush administration lawyers — including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales — who were the architects of the legal framework for President George W. Bush “enhanced interrogation” program, according to a report in the Spanish newspaper Publico. (Original article here; Google translation here.)

The six Bush administration alumni targeted in the prosecution are former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; John Yoo, author of the “torture memos”; Douglas Feith, then a deputy defense secretary; Pentagon lawyer William Haynes II; former assistant attorney general Jay Bybee; and David Addington, a former chief of staff to then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

According to Andy Worthington at, Judge Baltasar Garzon has rejected prosecutors’ request, made last April, to throw the case out. Prosecutors had argued the case was politically motivated.

But under Spanish law, criminal charges can be brought by anyone, not just prosecutors, and in this case it was private lawyers and civil-rights organizations that pressed the charges. The case is being brought on behalf of three former Guantanamo Bay inmates: Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes, both British residents, and Sami El-Laithi, an Egyptian national.

As RAW STORY reported in June, the case appeared jeopardized by the Spanish parliament’s decision to overhaul its human-rights laws.

Spain had adopted the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” allowing its courts to prosecute violations of human rights and crimes against humanity that occurred anywhere in the world. But an outcry from Israel over an attempted prosecution of Israeli soldiers for the Gaza bombing campaign last winter convinced legislators the law was too broad.

However, the judge appears to believe that Spain’s updated laws don’t affect the “Bush six” trial. Phillippe Sands, an international-law professor at University College London who has testified before Congress about torture, told Publico that “there is no legal barrier” to the case. (Original article here; Google translation here.)

Because cases like this are rare, it’s unclear what impact the Spanish trial will have on the Bush administration staffers who face prosecution.

Sands told Publico that he believes Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate CIA torture practices shows that the Spanish prosecution is on the right track.

However, Holder’s investigation will be limited to instances where interrogators overstepped the boundaries set out by Bush lawyers for “enhanced interrogation.” By contrast, the Spanish case challenges the legality of the entire program.