MADRID (AP) – Spanish prosecutors on Friday formally recommended against an investigation into allegations that six senior Bush administration officials gave legal cover for the torture of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. While their ruling is not binding, the announcement all but dooms prospects for the case against the men going forward. On Thursday, Spain’s top law-enforcement official Candido Conde-Pumpido said he would not support an investigation against the officials, including former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Prosecutors said any such investigation ought to be conducted in the United States, not Spain. They also questioned the idea of bringing charges against lawyers and presidential advisers who neither carried out the alleged torture themselves, nor were ultimately responsible for ordering it.
The prosecutors wrote that going after lawyers who wrote nonbinding recommendations for the president and his senior staff, rather than targeting higher-ranking officials who authorized the alleged torture, “raises important problems from a legal standpoint.”
It also questioned the appropriateness of a case that would effectively put on trial “all of the policies of the past U.S. administration (as reproachable as they may be),” saying such an endeavor would go beyond the scope of the Spanish legal system.
The case is one of several legal actions taken or in the works against Bush administration officials overseas, and the first to get as far as it did.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama assured CIA operatives they would not be prosecuted for their rough interrogation tactics, and his attorney general offered them legal help if anyone else takes them to court over methods that were approved by the Bush administration.
The Spanish case was brought to investigative judge Baltasar Garzon last month by a group of human rights lawyers. According to Spanish custom, Garzon asked prosecutors to recommend whether to proceed.
In Friday’s writ, the prosecutors recommended that if any investigation is in fact opened, Garzon should be replaced by another judge who is already investigating whether secret CIA flights to or from Guantanamo entered Spanish airspace or landed at Spanish airports.
The move will put tremendous pressure on Garzon to step aside, or at the very least allow a board of judges at the National Court to decide the matter. Observers say the removal of Garzon would be another serious blow for the human rights lawyers, who saw him as being sympathetic to their cause.
Spanish law gives its courts jurisdiction beyond national borders in cases of torture, war crimes and other heinous offenses, based on a doctrine known as universal justice, but the government has made clear it wants to rein in the process.
Prosecutors said Friday they would ask the attorney general for more clarity on whether and when to move forward in other universal jurisdiction cases in the future.
In his comments Thursday, Conde-Pumpido said a case against the Americans would have turned Spain’s national court into “a plaything” for competing political interests.
In addition to Gonzales, the complaint named ex-Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee; and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes.
It alleged that the men, who have become known as “The Bush Six” cleared the path for torture by claiming in advice and legal opinions that the president could ignore the Geneva Conventions, and by adopting an overly narrow definition of which interrogation techniques constituted torture.
Former President George W. Bush has steadfastly denied the U.S. broke the law. But the U.S. has acknowledged that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks, and a few other prisoners were waterboarded at secret CIA prisons before being taken to Guantanamo.