April 16, 2009 / 5:42 PM / 10 years ago

Spain attorney general against Guantanamo probe

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s attorney general said on Thursday he would not recommend a criminal investigation into six former Bush administration officials over torture at Guantanamo Bay, reducing the chances the probe will go ahead.

In this photo reviewed by the U.S. Military, a guard leans on a fencepost as a Guantanamo detainee (L) jogs inside the exercise yard at Camp 5 detention center, at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, January 21, 2009. REUTERS/Brennan Linsley/Pool

High Court Judge Baltasar Garzon, who came to world prominence when he issued an arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, had requested the attorney general’s advice on whether to probe former officials including former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over the U.S. base in Cuba.

“We cannot support that action,” Attorney General Candido Conde-Pumpido told reporters.

“If you investigate the crime of abuse of prisoners, the people probed have to be those who were materially responsible.”

A group of Spanish human rights lawyers had lodged a request in Garzon’s court for an investigation to determine whether the former U.S. officials had provided legal arguments allowing torture to proceed at the prison camp.

Asked about the case, U.S. President Barack Obama told CNN en Espanol: “I’m a strong believer that it’s important to look forward and not backwards, and to remind ourselves that we do have very real security threats out there.”

Obama stressed that since taking office in January he had ordered the closing of the Guantanamo camp and halted interrogation methods used on terrorism suspects under his predecessor George W. Bush.

Obama said he had not had direct contact with the Spanish government about the case but “my team has been in communications with them.”

While the recommendation of Conde-Pumpido, one of Spain’s most senior legal voices, reduces the chances Garzon will push ahead with the investigation, he could still do so anyway.

The attorney general’s office had advised him not to try to extradite Pinochet, but that did not stop him going ahead and almost succeeding.

SPAIN-BASED PRISONERS SAY TORTURED

Under Spanish law, jurisdiction can be claimed in the case because five Spanish citizens or residents who were prisoners at Guantanamo Bay say they were tortured there.

“The attorney general (Conde-Pumpido) is taking a political stance on a subject which is absolutely a legal matter,” human rights lawyer Gonzalo Boye told Reuters.

A member of the Association for the Dignity of Prisoners which lodged the investigation request, Boye said he hoped Garzon would proceed and the case might even lead U.S. courts to take action themselves.

“According to the (United Nations) Convention Against Torture, the United States will have to take a position on this. Either hand these people over or put them on trial themselves,” said Boye.

Candido Conde Pumpido waits to be sworn in as Spain's new Attorney General during a traditional ceremony at Zarzuela Palace in Madrid May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Andrea Comas

In one of his first acts in office, Obama set a one-year deadline for closing the prison in Cuba set up to hold foreigners after U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan to strike at al Qaeda. About 245 people are still being held there.

In the event that Garzon were to summons one of the men to testify, and they failed to appear in his Madrid court, they could face international arrest warrants like the one which led to Pinochet’s arrest while visiting Britain in 1998.

The other Americans named are William Haynes II, former general counsel for the Department of Defense; John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who wrote secret legal opinions saying President George W. Bush had the authority to circumvent the Geneva Conventions; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Jay Bybee, Yoo’s former boss at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and David Addington, chief of staff and legal adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Reporting by Jason Webb; Editing by Sophie Hares and Will Dunham

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