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Spanish judge opens Guantánamo investigation

Baltasar Garzón is bringing the case based on 'universal jurisdiction,' in which serious crimes can be tried outside national borders.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 30, 2009



Berlin

Spanish investigative judge Baltasar Garzón, known in international legal circles for his efforts to extradite Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, said Tuesday that he will open a preliminary investigation into the creation of the Guantánamo camp.

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If followed through, the investigation could bring out in a European court many of the materials already uncovered in the United States – through congressional committee hearings, recently declassified CIA memos, and media outlets – on the sanctioning of extreme methods of interrogation that have widely been called "torture."

Judge Garzón, known as "the superjudge" in Spain for his high-profile indictments, appears to be focused less on those in the US who carried out extreme measures, and more on the conceptual legal "framers" of then-secret memos that enabled the interrogations.

The scope of Garzón's filing includes "any of those that executed and/or designed a systematic plan of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of the prisoners [at Guantánamo] that were under their custody."

Sources familiar with the case say that pressures by the Spanish government to slow or stop Garzón are intense, and that Spanish justice officials and even Garzón himself would prefer that the US administration carry out a serious investigation in line with the requirements of the 1984 Convention on Torture (of which the US is a signatory), which demands such an inquiry.

The legal basis for the case is known as "universal jurisdiction," in which heinous crimes can be tried outside national borders; Indeed, a US court in New York this January exercised universal jurisdiction in a torture case involving Roy Belfast Jr., the son of Charles Taylor, the former Liberian dictator.

The situation highlights a White House trying to show the world a different face of America in the area of rule of law, moral authority, and that wants to "lead by example," as President Obama has said – but without adding to an already toxic controversy on the US domestic political scene.

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