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Spanish Court Refuses to Close Guantánamo Torture Investigation

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International Treaties Take Precedence over Recent Domestic Reforms to Universal Jurisdiction Law, Says Judge Pablo Ruz

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April 16, 2014, New York – Spain’s Audiencia Nacional is continuing its investigation into the alleged torture of men formerly detained at Guantánamo prison by U.S. officials, despite recent legislative restrictions stating that Spanish courts can only investigate human rights violations committed abroad if the suspects are present in Spain.  In an order issued yesterday, Judge Pablo Ruz ruled that Spain’s obligations under international law to investigate any credible allegation of torture took precedence over the new restrictions, and renewed his request for information from the Obama Administration regarding any U.S.-based investigations into torture allegations.

“We are gratified that the judge rightly placed the demands of the law above any political pressures, in ruling that this effort to hold high-level U.S. officials accountable for their role in the torture of men at Guantánamo prison and other sites can proceed,” said Katherine Gallagher, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “The court is sending a strong message to the Spanish and U.S. governments that it will uphold its international commitments under the Convention Against Torture to punish and redress torture regardless of who the alleged perpetrator is.”
 
The reforms to Spain’s universal jurisdiction law came after a judge in the same court issued arrest warrants for five top Chinese government officials alleging they were responsible for genocide and abuses in Tibet in the 1980s and 1990s. Spain’s Popular Party (PP) fast-tracked legislation restricting the court’s ability to take on such cases, in an apparent bow to external political pressure and against the strong opposition of human rights advocates. The new restrictions, which went into effect last month, have triggered a flurry of filings followed by decisions from different judges seized with investigations of torture or war crimes committed outside Spain. Thus far, judges have refused to close on-going investigations, including cases involving violations committed in Western Sahara, El Salvador, and the killing of a Spanish journalist in Iraq.  
 
“The Spanish government introduced a law reform contradicting its obligations under international law. We welcome the decision by Judge Ruz to continue the investigations on Guantánamo. Violations of the absolute prohibition of torture must be prosecuted,” said Andreas Schueller of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
 
CCR and ECCHR have both been admitted to the proceedings, as legal representatives for two former Guantánamo detainees. A Spanish resident is among the plaintiffs in the case.
 
“Judge Ruz has accepted our legal arguments and the case is far from being closed. There is still an opportunity for justice in Spain,” said Gonzalo Boye, a Madrid-based lawyer who represents former detainees in the proceedings.
 
For more information and filings, visit the websites of the CCR and ECCHR.
 
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CCR has led the legal battle over Guantánamo since 2002 – representing clients in two United States Supreme Court cases and organizing and coordinating hundreds of pro bono lawyers across the country to represent the men at Guantánamo. CCR has also filed cases against high-level U.S. officials, including George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld in Canada, Germany and France, and released a Bush Torture Indictment, ready to be tailored to the specific laws of any of the 154 countries that are a party to the Convention Against Torture where he may travel. Visit www.ccrjustice.org; follow @theCCR.
 
The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) is an independent, non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to protecting civil and human rights. ECCHR focuses on enforcing human rights by legal means. Since its foundation in 2007, ECCHR acted before national prosecution services and courts as well as before the International Criminal Court to bring perpetrators of international crimes to justice. From the very beginning, ECCHR pursued cases against U.S. officials for their responsibility within the U.S. torture and rendition programs. Visit www.ecchr.eu.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.