CommunityThe Bullpen

US Derails Major Spanish Torture Investigation

As Glenn Greenwald explains today, we’ve had a good deal of official censorship of the Wikileaks cables, not just in the general sense with Joe Lieberman nudging the site off of Amazon’s cloud service, but in the particular. Several of the most sensitive revelations in not only this but a number of Wikileaks releases over the past year just don’t make it into American newspapers and news reports. He gives a sampling, but I want to focus on one: the State Department pressuring the Spanish government to stop investigations of torture and mistreatment by US nationals. Scott Horton of Harper’s writes:

Attention has focused on three separate matters, each pending in the Spanish national security court, the Audiencia Nacional: the investigation into the 2003 death of a Spanish cameraman, José Cuoso, as a result of the mistaken shelling of Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel by a U.S. tank; an investigation into the torture of Spanish subjects held at Guantánamo; and a probe into the use of Spanish bases and airfields for extraordinary renditions flights, including the one which took Khaled El-Masri to Baghdad and then on to Afghanistan in 2003.

These cables reveal a large-scale, closely coordinated effort by the State Department to obstruct these criminal investigations […]

Diplomats routinely monitor and report on legal cases that affect national interests. These cables show that the U.S. embassy in Madrid had far exceeded this mandate, however, and was actually successfully steering the course of criminal investigations, the selection of judges, and the conduct of prosecutors. Their disclosure has created deep concern about the independence of judges in Spain and the manipulation of the entire criminal justice system by a foreign power

David Corn has more on the bipartisan cooperation, between the Bush and Obama Administrations, to derail these investigations. He focuses on this cable from April 2009, which lays out the history of this obstruction. This included visits by Republican Senators like Judd Gregg and Mel Martinez, as well as Embassy officials in Madrid (this was two months after Gregg withdrew his nomination for Commerce Secretary; at least he and Obama could still work together on the important stuff). Basically they all leaned on Spanish officials, including the chief prosecutor in the case, until the Spanish Attorney General said he wouldn’t support the criminal complaint against Bush-era officials, including Alberto Gonzales and Douglas Feith, for their role in authorizing torture. Later, the Spanish Parliament passed legislation that limits the “universal jurisdiction” law for Spanish courts, and the case fizzled. Corn concludes:

Back when it seemed that this case could become a major international issue, during an April 14, 2009, White House briefing, I asked press secretary Robert Gibbs if the Obama administration would cooperate with any request from the Spaniards for information and documents related to the Bush Six. He said, “I don’t want to get involved in hypotheticals.” What he didn’t disclose was that the Obama administration, working with Republicans, was actively pressuring the Spaniards to drop the investigation. Those efforts apparently paid off, and, as this WikiLeaks-released cable shows, Gonzales, Haynes, Feith, Bybee, Addington, and Yoo owed Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thank-you notes.

As Will Bunch noted, during the campaign, then-Senator Obama promised he would “have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that’s already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued” on torture. Instead, while in office, he not only declined to investigate but worked with Republicans to scotch other countries’ investigations. Bunch writes:

Here’s the thing: In a sense, I agree with the Obama’s administration’s actions here, in that it shouldn’t be Spain’s responsibility to determine whether American high-ranked officials committed crimes. It is America’s responsibility to determine whether high-ranking American officials committed crimes, and in that regard we have failed miserably as a nation. That failure took place largely under the presidency of Barack Obama. It is why officials as far away as Spain have to think about getting involved.

The funny thing is that this sense of expediency, the lack of accountability, and one set of rules for the powerful and another set for everyone else, is now coming to permeate American society […] Where on earth did people in America get this idea, that we only have a system of justice when it happens to be convenient? Maybe they got it from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and from a nation that looks at a president who invaded another country on bogus, trumped up pretenses and ordered illegal acts of torture – and sends him on a cross-country book tour with a multi-million-dollar reward? Actions have consequences, but so does inaction, and for all the right-wing clucking, the reality is that the failure of this country to hold a president and his aides accountable for things that were not “policy differences” but serious violations of the law is making America weaker, not stronger, as our moral fiber and our standing in the world slowly erodes.

The greatest failing of this country over the last decade was this steady undermining of the legal system and accountability for crimes, depending on the social class, influence, and political power.

Previous post

Political Corruption: GOP Embraces the Ken Lay Way

Next post

The Game IS Rigged

David Dayen

David Dayen