In Europe, Demands For Torture Accountability

The debate over Guantanamo and the use of torture was the subject of a heated debate at a conference held by New York University's Center on Law and Security in Florence, Italy, last weekend. Europeans called for a public airing of the Bush administration's detention and interrogation policies.

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The debate over Guantanamo and the use of torture to fight terrorism is not raging just in Washington. At a conference held by New York University's Center on Law and Security last weekend in Florence, Italy, Europeans called for a public airing of the Bush administration's detention and interrogation policies.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli was there.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: European investigators had railed against what they had called the legal black hole of the past administration's counterterrorism methods, seen as both illegal and an obstruction to fighting terrorism. And they now warmly welcome President Obama's new policies. But the conference showed how hard it is to close the transatlantic gap. Despite the president's pledge to shutdown Guantanamo and abolish torture, the Europeans still believe there are areas of legal limbo, such as prolonged detention and the category of enemy combatant.

In an intense debate, some Americans called for a revision of the Geneva Convention to take into account the new nature of international terrorism. The Europeans rejected the notion. The rule of law exists and does not need revisions, said Italy's top anti-terrorism investigator Armando Spataro.

Mr. ARMANDO SPATARO (Anti-terrorism Investigator): (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: This is only a means to justify what happened in the past. Those are policies that must be erased.

Mr. SPATARO: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: Spataro is wrapping up his prosecution of two dozen CIA agents for their alleged role in an extraordinary rendition. They could become the first Americans convicted under the Bush administration policy. That would raise the sensitive issue of their extradition.

And Spain's leading anti-terrorism judge, Balthazar Garcon, has launched investigations into the use of torture based on testimony from four former Guantanamo detainees - only one of them a Spanish citizen.

Judge BALTHAZAR GARCON (Anti-terrorism Judge): (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: Since these cases involve war crimes and crimes against humanity, said Garcon, Spanish law and international law obliges us to pursue these investigations, and this applies to all citizens, not just Spanish ones.

Despite pressure from Spain's parliament, Garcon told me he intends to track down those responsible unless the U.S. justice system takes up these cases. But Karen Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security, says a public airing of the alleged abuses cannot be left to the international community. The Obama administration, she says, has already put in motion an accountability process.

Ms. KAREN GREENBERG (Executive Director, Center on Law and Security): The further step that this president will have to take, whether he likes it or not, is not necessarily prosecution and not necessarily a formal investigation. But he will have to charge some group of experts with writing the official narrative about what happened.

POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.

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