A complaint filed Thursday with the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers alleges that the United States and the government of Spain colluded to stop the Spanish judiciary from prosecuting U.S. figures for torture under a legal theory construct known as universal jurisdiction.
Those individuals that Spanish courts sought to prosecute included six former Bush administration attorneys who approved the use of torture tactics in enemy interrogations. The U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed the complaint with the help of the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
The allegations of improper influence on Spain’s judiciary spring from a collection of 14 U.S. embassy cables (PDF) authored by the Bush and Obama administrations, revealed by anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
“[We] submit that the U.S. diplomatic cables – the key documents of which are annexed to this complaint – demonstrate a coordinated effort, led by U.S. officials and involving certain senior members of the Spanish government, to obstruct and otherwise interfere with the outcome of these three cases,” the complaint reads. “We maintain that the aim of this concerted action was to prejudice the outcome of these cases in favor of the defendants and thereby subvert the course of justice in Spain.”
Both groups also demanded that the U.S. and Spanish officials cease efforts to influence the judiciary, and requested that the U.N. rapporteur investigate the case. Spanish law, they said, allows local courts to exercise jurisdiction over international crimes if “there was no other competent country or international tribunal where proceedings have been initiated that constitute an effective investigation and prosecution in relation to the punishable facts.”
The doctrine of universal jurisdiction is also upheld in international law by countries like the U.S., Mexico, the U.K., Canada, Germany, France and others, which typically comply with extradition requests for offenders who are convicted by courts abroad.
“The WikiLeaks cables reveal that the United States will go to extreme measures to ensure that U.S. officials are not called before a court of law to answer the torture allegations against them,” CCR Senior Attorney Katherine Gallagher explained in a media advisory. “Unfortunately, in Spain they found Spanish officials willing to work with them to keep justice from being done. We hope the Special Rapporteur will examine the serious breaches of international law detailed in our complaint, and that those who suffered under the U.S. torture program can pursue justice, without interference, in Spain and elsewhere.”