As set forth in a prior post, Spain has implemented the principle of universal jurisdiction in three pending criminal cases against certain U.S. officials for their alleged involvement in torture. When reviewing these three cases, the reader needs to be aware that under Spanish law, unlike U.S. law, ordinary citizens and NGO’s may initiate criminal cases as a popular prosecutor by filing a criminal case with the court, as was done in all three of these cases.
The first of these cases against U.S. officials relates to the alleged use of torture at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It is directed at “members of the American air forces or military intelligence and all those who executed and/or designed a systemic torture plan and inhuman and degrading treatment against prisoners in their custody.”
This case began on April 27, 2009, when Judge Garzon at the Audiencia Nacional initiated a preliminary investigation of U.S. interrogation and treatment of four former detainees at Guantanamo, all of whom had been acquitted of Spanish criminal charges because of their having been tortured and subject to other abuses while at that facility. This decision did not name potential defendants and instead indicated it was directed at “possible material and instigating perpetrators, necessary collaborators and accomplices.” These facts, said the court, amounted to violations of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture.
On May 15, 2009, Judge Garzon issued a formal request (Letters Rogatory) to the U.S. and the U.K. asking whether there were any criminal investigations regarding the treatment of these four men. Neither country responded. If there had been such investigations in the U.S. or the U.K., then the Spanish court would not proceed.
On January 27, 2010, Judge Garzon determined that the court had jurisdiction over the case because two of the men were a Spanish citizen or resident and because the violations constituted crimes against humanity as well as violations of multilateral human rights treaties to which the U.S. was a party.
In May 2010 Judge Garzon was suspended from judicial service and removed from this case after a criminal case had been brought against him for initiating a criminal case regarding atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime. Judge Pablo Rafael Ruz Guitierrez took over the handling of this case.
On April 6, 2011, an appellate court (the Plenary of the Criminal Division of the Audiencia Nacional) affirmed that the Spanish courts were competent to hear this complaint while dismissing an appeal by the Public Prosecutor’s Office that had requested dismissal.
On January 12, 2012, Judge Ruz issued a decision noting that the court had not received any responses to the letters rogatory to the U.S. and U.K. and affirming that the Spanish court had jurisdiction over the case.
In summary, the case is still pending and is not yet resolved.