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Spanish judge opens probe into Guantanamo torture
MADRID (AFP) — A Spanish judge on Wednesday opened an investigation into an alleged "systematic programme" of torture at the US Guantanamo Bay detention camp, following accusations by four former prisoners.
Judge Baltasar Garzon will probe the "perpetrators, the instigators, the necessary collaborators and accomplices" to crimes of torture at the prison at the US naval base in southern Cuba, he said in his ruling, a copy of which was seen by AFP.
The judge based his decision on statements by Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, known as the "Spanish Taliban" and three other former Guantanamo detainees -- a Moroccan, a Palestinian and a Libyan.
Garzon said that documents declassified by the US administration and carried by US media "have revealed what was previously a suspicion: the existence of an authorised and systematic programme of torture and mistreatment of persons deprived of their freedom" that flouts international conventions.
This points to "the possible existence of concerted actions by the US administration for the execution of a multitude of crimes of torture against persons deprived of their freedom in Guantanamo and other prisons including that of Bagram" in Afghanistan.
The four former Guantanamo detainees alleged they were held in cramped cells and suffered beatings and other physical and mental mistreatment.
The Palestinian, Jamiel Abdelatif al Banna, said he suffered "blows to the head that caused him to lose consciousness, was detained in an underground place without light for three weeks and deprived of food and sleep."
The decision by Garzon, known around the world for ordering the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998, was unrelated to another investigation by the judge into six officials of the former US administration of George W. Bush over alleged torture at Guantanamo Bay.
Prosecutors this month issued an official request to the judge to drop that probe, arguing that the complaint targets officials who did not have the power to make decisions but who simply "drafted non-binding judicial reports."
Spain since 2005 has assumed the principle of universal jurisdiction in alleged cases of crimes against humanity, genocide, and terrorism. But it can only proceed when any such cases of the alleged crimes are not already subject to a legal procedure in the country involved.
Several human rights groups have asked judges in different countries to indict Bush administration officials over the camp, which US President Barack Obama has vowed to close by January 2010.
More than 800 detainees have been held at the US military prison since 2002.
Some 240 people are still there. About 60 of them have been deemed eligible for release, but the Obama administration is struggling to arrange their transfer to a third country.
The Bush administration had charged about 20 of the detainees on terror-related charges, including two prisoners arrested when they were still teenagers.
Philippe Sands, an attorney specializing in international law, and author of The Torture Team is currently on Fresh Air explaining this investigation. According to his sources the targets of this investigation include Condoleeza Rice and Richard B. Cheney, What is likely to happen net is for the investigation to proceed, if unappealed, a court date will be set, and the targets will be advised to appear. Garzón may then issue an arrest warrant that will be valid, at least in Spain, but possibly other countries.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking with reporters in Berlin before the investigation was announced, did not rule out cooperating with such an investigation.
"Obviously, we would look at any request that would come from a court in any country and see how and whether we should comply with it," Holder said.
"This is an administration that is determined to conduct itself by the rule of law and to the extent that we receive lawful requests from an appropriately-created court, we would obviously respond to it," he said.
Asked if that meant the U.S. would cooperate with a foreign court prosecuting Bush administration officials, Holder said he was talking about evidentiary requests, and would review any such request to see if the United States would comply.
Phillipe Sands' interview on Fresh Air can be listened to here.