Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spanish judge starts Guantanamo torture probe

Spanish judge starts Guantanamo torture probe

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A Spanish judge has started a criminal investigation into suspected torture of detainees in the base at Guantanamo and said he would target both US military personnel and those who issued their orders.

Judge Baltasar Garzon, who once tried to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, said he based his case on testimony in his court by four former Guantanamo detainees who complained of physical and mental abuse at the base in Cuba.

He called Guantanamo a legal "limbo" and as such fell under universal jurisdiction, allowing him to investigate what went on in the base which US President Barack Obama has promised to close.

Garzon became internationally famous for his pursuits of Pinochet and Argentine military officers, which set precedents for the principle that certain serious crimes can be prosecuted anywhere in the world.

Listing possible perpetrators of criminal acts, Garzon said: "members of the US army and military intelligence and all those who put into practice or designed a systematic plan of torture or abuse."

The judge said he would ask US authorities for copies of documents declassified by the Obama administration detailing practices such as waterboarding – which induces a sensation of drowning.

"They reveal what had previously been suspected: an authorised, systematic plan for the torture and maltreatment of people deprived of their liberty without charge and without the most basic rights granted to any detainee," said Garzon in the ruling.

Garzon detailed a list of abuses against the four men, including sexual assault, beatings, subjection to extreme heat and cold, continual interrogation at any time of day or night, sleep deprivation and long periods in handcuffs and shackles.

Human rights groups in the United States have called for US courts to investigate events at Guantanamo, and last week Obama left the door open to possible prosecutions of officials who laid the legal groundwork for torture.

Garzon's criminal investigation comes just weeks after Spain's most famous judge was forced to give up an attempt to initiate a probe into six former Bush administration officials, including ex-US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, over Guantanamo, after criticism from Spanish legal authorities.

But one of the human rights lawyers who had presented the criminal complaint against the six officials said that Garzon's latest ruling was far more than they had hoped for, as it went after not only the perpetrators of abuse but also their bosses.

"We asked for a cup of tea and he has given us a complete breakfast," lawyer Gonzalo Boye said.

Garzon was forced to surrender his earlier case against Gonzales and others after Spain's attorney general said it was not legally allowed.

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