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Spanish judge considers trying U.S. officials over Guantanamo

A complaint has been filed against former Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales and other Bush administration figures, citing harsh interrogation tactics at the prison.

March 29, 2009|Sebastian Rotella

MADRID — A high-profile Spanish judge has initiated a possible investigation of alleged torture and war crimes by half a dozen U.S. officials who created the legal framework for interrogations at Guantanamo, a senior Spanish official said Saturday.

Judge Baltasar Garzon of Spain's highest court has requested that a prosecutor examine a complaint against the Bush administration officials filed last year by inmates rights advocates, said the senior official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The prosecutor must issue a recommendation on the merits of opening a case and on whether the high court has jurisdiction, the official said. The prosecutor probably will respond next month to Garzon's move, which was reported Saturday by Spanish news media.

The process will involve a number of steps and obstacles before any decision is reached to investigate and, ultimately, issue arrest warrants.

"It must be decided whether to open a case, whether there is jurisdiction, whether any judicial action has been taken in the United States," the official said. "If the case is opened, an investigation would be required, testimony and so on. There is a long way to go."

Garzon has made a name for himself with bold prosecutions of figures such as Osama bin Laden and Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean strongman who was jailed in Britain as the result of an arrest warrant issued by Garzon. British authorities ultimately sent Pinochet back to Chile.

Garzon also has been an outspoken critic of the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, calling it inhumane and urging that it be shut down.

The six former U.S. officials named in the complaint include former Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales; William J. Haynes II, a former counsel at the Defense Department; and John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer, the senior official said. The group is seen as the brains behind a framework of policies and legal opinions that created the Guantanamo prison, justified harsh interrogation tactics and found that captured Al Qaeda suspects were not protected by the Geneva Convention.

Judges at Spain's high court have a history of using international law to pursue cases overseas even when Spaniards are not involved, such as a recently announced attempt to indict Israeli leaders for an airstrike in Gaza that killed a Palestinian militant chief.

The complaint was submitted to Garzon's courtroom because he has investigated five cases of former Guantanamo inmates with Spanish nationality or residence.

Garzon prosecuted three on terrorism-related charges but dismissed cases against the other two, ruling that allegations of torture and other abuse had tainted the proceedings.

A Spanish group called the Assn. for Dignity of Inmates filed the complaint.

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rotella@latimes.com

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