Guantanamo Inmates Make Case To Spanish Court A few years ago, Spain's National Court was given the power to investigate torture and other serious crimes anywhere in the world, even if no Spanish citizens were involved. The ruling has triggered a flood of international suits, including two cases regarding Guantanamo detainees.
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Guantanamo Inmates Make Case To Spanish Court

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Guantanamo Inmates Make Case To Spanish Court

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We've spent much of this morning reporting on the future of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That camp is one of the subjects that has come before a court in Spain, which we'll hear about next. For the past few years, Spain's national court has investigated torture and other human rights crimes anywhere in the world, including Guantanamo, even if no Spanish citizens were involved.

Its critics say the Spanish tribunal is out of control, while its supporters counter that it's advancing the cause of international justice. Jerome Socolovsky reports from Madrid.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: In 2005, Spain's Constitutional Court decided that since many victims of human rights abuses had no legal recourse in their own country, they could appeal to Spanish courts for justice. So now Spain's National Court works under the principal of universal jurisdiction. In other words, it must investigate allegations of crimes like torture and terrorism in another country if no legal action is being taken there. Now the court's docket contains more than a dozen cases in countries including China, Morocco, Israel and now also the United States.

Mr. LAHCEN IKASRIEN (Former Guantanamo Inmate): (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: That's former Guantanamo inmate Lahcen Ikasrien alleging on Spanish television that he was tortured at the prison. An investigating magistrate, Baltasar Garzon, tried to prosecute the Moroccan-born Ikasrien and some other former Guantanamo prisoners for terrorism. But the cases fell through because the evidence was deemed to have been obtained under torture.

So in March of this year, Garzon started an investigation into allegations that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five other Bush administration lawyers gave legal justification for torture at Guantanamo. Spain's attorney general tried to block his investigation, so Garzon opened a broader case against what he calls the possible perpetrators and instigators of a systematic plan of torture.

(Soundbite of chatter)

SOCOLOVSKY: At a recent legal seminar in Madrid, one of the participants was National Court Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez. He presides over most major terrorism cases in Spain, including the Madrid bombing trial a few years ago, and would most likely be on the bench for any case regarding Guantanamo.

In his first public comments on the case, Judge Gomez Bermudez said the proposed closure of Guantanamo, current investigations in the U.S. and the recent release of documents raise doubts about Spanish jurisdiction.

Judge JAVIER GOMEZ BERMUDEZ (Spanish National Court Judge): (Spanish spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: It's evident that in an international community of democratic states, no state can arrogate to itself the authority to supervise what another is doing, except in the case that the other is doing absolutely nothing.

Judge BERMUDEZ: (Spanish spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: If President Obama is taking a series of decisions in favor of human rights, it doesn't make apparent sense for us to come and put icing on the cake, he said.

Other judges say the National Court is being distracted from its domestic work. And the policy of universal jurisdiction has become a headache for Spanish diplomats. Israel is furious over an investigation into its actions in Gaza, and China is outraged by an investigation of three Chinese ministers over Beijing's crackdown in Tibet.

So far, only one person has been convicted in Spain in a case based on universal jurisdiction. But proponents say the mere act of investigating draws attention, both to the atrocities and to the perpetrators.

Gonzalo Boye is a controversial human rights lawyer who brought the initial case against the Bush administration officials. He thinks that's what started the debate about legal action over torture in the U.S.

Mr. GONZALO BOYE (Human Rights Lawyer): Well, I think in America, this was something that was on the agenda, and people was talking about that, but until they saw really that there is a problem and that they may face charges outside the U.S., then they took it seriously.

SOCOLOVSKY: Boye says Americans should embrace universal jurisdiction. After all, he says, America was once one of the early proponents of the idea at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after World War II.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.

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