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Leading U.S. Rights Group Seeks to Intervene in Spanish Court’s Investigations into Bush Administration’s Torture Program
Madrid, April 27, 2010 – Today, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a motion with Spain’s national court (Audencia Nacional) seeking to intervene as a party (Acusación Popular) in the criminal investigation currently pending in Spain into the torture program conducted by the United States during the Bush Administration. Initiated in April of 2009 by Judge Baltasar Garzón, the investigation focuses on the torture and abuse of four former Guantánamo detainees, Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, Ikassrien Lahcen, Jamiel Abdul Latif Al Banna and Omar Deghaye, each with strong ties to Spain. The investigation will examine what Judge Garzón described as “an approved systematic plan of torture and ill-treatment” and thus can encompass the torture that took place in Iraq, Afghanistan and U.S. run black sites around the world. Mr. Ahmed is a Spanish citizen and Mr. Ikassrien had been a Spanish resident for more than 13 years.
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo and has represented plaintiffs who have been subjected to every facet of the United States’ torture program, from Guantánamo detainees to Abu Ghraib torture survivors, and victims of extraordinary rendition and CIA ghost detention. CCR has represented former detainees in U.S. federal courts in habeas corpus proceedings and civil actions, seeking habeas relief, injunctions or damages. It bases its motion to intervene on vast experience working on these issues on behalf of its clients
“For eight long years we have fought to redress the brutal, inhumane and illegal acts perpetrated against our clients but have been blocked at every turn by both the Bush and Obama administrations,” said CCR President Michael Ratner, who filed the first habeas corpus petition brought on behalf of a Guantanamo detainee in 2002. “We come to Spain in pursuit of nothing less than justice, which, sadly, is not available in the United States.”
CCR staff attorney and lead counsel in the action, Katherine Gallagher, added: “The purpose of the intervention is multi-fold: to pursue justice and accountability for egregious international law violations in a forum that is willing to exercise jurisdiction over the case, and to press the message that no one is above the law and that impunity cannot stand, even if the U.S. is unwilling to prosecute the crimes.”
Judge Garzón’s investigation is parallel to a separate case in which a fellow magistrate, Judge Eloy Velasco, must decide whether the National Court can pursue a criminal investigation against six senior U.S. officials, including attorneys John Yoo, Jay Bybee and former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, for allegedly approving the use of torture. Separately CCR, jointly with the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), is filing an expert opinion today with Judge Velasco urging him to retain jurisdiction over the investigation due to the failure of the United States to conduct independent, thorough or impartial investigations into the torture program and the ongoing failure of the Obama administration to prosecute those responsible for the torture program. The opinion states:
“the U.S. has utterly failed in its obligations to initiate an effective investigation or prosecution against the specific defendants in this case or on behalf of the named plaintiffs or other victims of the U.S. interrogation, detention and torture policies. This unfortunately remains the case under the Obama Administration. Furthermore, both the Obama and Bush Administrations have actively sought to block all efforts on behalf of victims of the detention, interrogation and torture policies from having their day in court, when in the context of habeas proceedings or civil actions. Spain, therefore, can and indeed, must, exercise its jurisdiction over the named defendants for the violations alleged in this case.”
The expert opinion also examines the scope of universal jurisdiction, and determines that because of the nature of the crimes alleged and Spain’s obligations as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions and Convention Against Torture, in particular, it should retain jurisdiction over this case.
In his decision opening the investigation, Judge Garzón called the torture program “an authorized and systematic plan of torture and ill-treatment on persons deprived of their freedom without any charge and without the basic rights of any detainee, set out and required by applicable international conventions…” On January 27, 2010, Judge Garzón issued a decision in which he ruled that Spain had jurisdiction and the investigation into complaints filed could proceed. Judge Garzón based this finding in part on the Spanish citizenship and residency in Spain of two of the victims, and also cited the previous relationship between the victims and Spain due to the request for their extradition issued by Spain. Judge Garzón also found that opening an investigation was proper given the nature of the crimes – including torture – under universal jurisdiction principles, despite the amendment to the Spanish law in November 2009. His decision also takes note of the Letters Rogatory that were sent to the United States and United Kingdom on May 15, 2009, inquiring about possible investigations into these cases as well as into the possibility that the victims could initiate criminal proceedings themselves. Neither country responded.
The Center for Constitutional Rights will be represented in these proceedings by Spanish lawyers, including Gonzalo Boye of Boye-Elbal y Asociados.
For more information on the investigations of U.S. torture pending in Spain, see: www.ccrjustice.org/spain-us-torture-case.
For more information on CCR’s work to hold U.S. officials accountable using universal jurisdiction, see: http://www.ccrjustice.org/case-against-rumsfeld
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last eight years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee” there. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 50 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org.