Diplomatic cables give details on how US tried to influence Guantanamo Bay accountability cases in Spain

The US embassy in Madrid briefed Washington on the request of the ‘Association for the Dignity of Prisoners’ to the Audienca Nacional in March 2009 to indict six Bush Administration officials for creating a legal framework that allegedly permitted torture. The association tried to steer this case directly to National Court Investigating Judge Baltasar Garzon, but he passed the NGO’s complaint to the prosecutor’s office of Javier Zaragoza for him to determine if there is a legitimate case. The cables portray Spain’s Chief Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza as the de facto key Spanish legal advisor of the US, who is actively trying to torpedo the lawsuit.

Visibly displeased with this having been dropped in his lap, Zaragoza said he was in no rush to proceed with the case and in any event will argue that the case should not be assigned to Garzon. Zaragoza acknowledged that Garzon has the “right of first refusal,” but said he will recommend that Garzon’s colleague, Investigating Judge Ismael Moreno, should be assigned the case. Zaragoza said the case ties in with Moreno’s ongoing investigations into alleged illegal “CIA flights” that have transited Spain carrying detainees to Guantanamo. Zaragoza said that if Garzon disregards his recommendation and takes the case, he will appeal. Zaragoza added that Garzon’s impartiality was very suspect, given his public criticism of Guantanamo and the U.S. war on terror (we note that, among other things, Garzon narrated a documentary in 2008 that was extremely critical of the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and its approach to fighting terrorism) and his August 2008 public statements that former President Bush should be tried for war crimes.

Zaragoza als actively gave the U.S advice on how to prevent trouble:

Zaragoza noted that Spain would not be able to claim jurisdiction in the case if the USG opened its own investigation, which he much preferred as the best way forward and described as “the only way out” for the USG. He cited the complaint against Israeli officials mentioned above and said he would request the investigating judge close that case once he had formal notice that the Israelis had opened their own investigation.

The Embassy then commented:

Based on what Zaragoza told us, we suspect the case will eventually be referred to the National Court for investigation, although that step may not come for some time.  Once it reaches the National Court, these cases seem to move slowly, periodically generating publicity as new evidence is taken (as with Moreno’s investigation into so-called Guantanamo flights). Whether this case will end up with Garzon, Moreno, or some other judge, we cannot say. Garzon, despite his penchant for publicity and criticism of certain aspects of U.S. policy, has worked well with the U.S. on more routine criminal matters (although we think a direct approach to him on this case could well be counter-productive). Moreno, while his reputation as a judge stands higher among legal insiders, has been cooler in his dealings us.

And then there’s the last sentence of the cable:

That said, we do not know if the government would be willing to take the risky step of trying behind the scenes to influence the prosecutor’s recommendation on this case or what their reaction to such a request would be.

Two weeks later there was a follow-up cable of the embassy (09MADRID392). By that time Spain’s Attorney General (AG) had publicly stated that prosecutors will “undoubtedly” not support the criminal complaint. The cable gives more details on how the AG’s public announcement followed “outreach” by US officials who raised “deep concerns” on the implications of the case.

The cable then includes two paragraphs which puts Prosecutor Zaragoza on the spot:

Zaragoza on April 14 called Embassy Madrid’s FSN Legal Adviser and informed her that a more thorough study had revealed that the complaint was targeted against legal advisors with no executive authority and that it was legally difficult to establish what type of offense the six had committed and the degree to which they participated in the alleged offenses. Zaragoza said the complaint lacked details and was directed against USG policy rather than a specific perpetrator. He said he would ask Conde Pumpido to review whether Spain has jurisdiction in this case and indicated that he hoped the Spanish AG would draft a clear set of rules on how and when Spain should prosecute universal jurisdiction complaints.
(…)
Zaragoza has also told us that if a proceeding regarding this matter were underway in the U.S., that would effectively bar proceedings in Spain. We intend to further explore this option with him informally (asking about format, timing, how much information he would need, etc.) while making it clear that the USG has not made a decision to follow this course of action

At the urging of Spanish prosecutors, the earlier case was reassigned to another National Court judge “who now appears to be trying shelve the case”, according to a cable one month later (09MADRID440). The same prosecutor also disclosed to the US his strategy on how he would discredit another investigation by Judge Garzon into alleged U.S. torture of terrorism detainees.

Zaragoza said he had challenged Garzon directly and personally on this latest case, asking if he was trying to drum up more speaking fees. Garzon replied he was doing it for the record only and would let it die. Zaragoza opined that Garzon, having gotten his headline, would soon drop the matter. In case he does not, Zaragoza has a strategy to force his hand. Zaragoza’s strategy hinges on the older case in which Garzon investigated terrorism complaints against some Guantanamo detainees. In connection with those earlier investigations, Garzon ordered the Spanish police to visit Guantanamo and collect evidence against the suspected terrorists. Zaragoza reasons that he can use this fact to embarrass Garzon into dropping this latest case by suggesting Garzon in some sense condoned the U.S. approach to detainee issues circa 2004. Garzon took no action in 2004 when the suspects returned to Spain and reported to him their alleged mistreatment. Zaragoza said that if Garzon could not be shamed into dropping the case, then he would formally recommend Garzon do so and appeal if Garzon ignored him.

The US embassy comments upon Zaragoza’s role:

We believe Zaragoza is acting in good faith and playing a constructive role. Certainly he knows Garzon better than we do, having sparred with him before. Nevertheless, we do not share his optimism that this problem will go away anytime soon. Having started, it is hard for us to see why the publicity-loving Garzon would shut off his headline-generating machine unless forced to do so. And forcing him to do so could take months. We also fear Garzon — far from being deterred by threats of disciplinary action — may welcome the chance for martyrdom, knowing the case will attract worldwide attention. In any event, we will probably be dealing with this issue for some time to come. Zaragoza will be in Washington in early June for LEGATT-organized consultations on CT cooperation. L and DOJ may wish take that opportunity to discuss these cases with him directly at that time.

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