Spanish judge sends Guantanamo inquiry

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A Spanish judge will ask the United States if it plans to probe alleged torture at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp before deciding whether to open his own inquiry.

Judge Eloy Velasco from Spain’s top criminal court will make the request formally in a letter to officials in the United States, according to a copy of the document obtained on Tuesday.

The National Court is considering a complaint filed on behalf of a rights group that alleges that six officials in the administration of former president George W. Bush sanctioned torture against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Spain has since 2005 operated under the principle of "universal jurisdiction", a doctrine that allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture, terrorism or war crimes

     In March another National Court judge, Baltasar Garzon, accepted the complaint from the Association for the Rights of Prisoners because there were at least four Spaniards at Guantanamo who allegedly suffered torture.

But last month the case was assigned to Velasco, who was already looking into CIA flights allegedly carrying prisoners to Guantanamo that may have stopped on Spanish soil.

Spanish prosecutors had earlier issued an official request to Garzon to drop his probe on the grounds that the National Court was unqualified to carry out such a "general inquiry" into the prison camp and its judicial system.

Garzon is Spain’s best-known judge for investigating international human rights abuses. He issued a precedent-setting arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998 while Pinochet was in a London hospital.

Velasco is thought to have little, if any, experience in cases involving universal jurisdiction.

The complaint argues the six, including ex-US attorney general Alberto Gonzales, developed the legal framework of Guantanamo that allowed torture to take place by adopting a very narrow definition of what interrogation techniques constituted torture.

In addition to Gonzales, it names former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, former vice president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington, Pentagon lawyer William Haynes, former undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith and former Justice Department official Jay S. Bybee, according to US media.

The complaint was prepared by Spanish lawyers with the help from experts in Europe and the United States.

Spain’s attorney general, Candido Conde-Pumpido, warned last month that the National Court risked becoming a "plaything" to be sued for political ends if it goes ahead with the Guantanamo probe.

US President Barack Obama has vowed to close the camp by January 2010. More than 800 detainees have been held there since 2002.

The Bush administration had charged about 20 of the detainees on terror-related charges, including two prisoners arrested when they were still teenagers.

© 2009 AFP

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