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Obama White House pressured Spain to drop Bush torture prosecution, leaked cable shows

The Obama administration went to the mat to defend its predecessors from a torture prosecution in Spain last year, a leaked State Department cable shows.

The cable, released by WikiLeaks this week, shows that senior US diplomats teamed with Republican lawmakers — including a former Republican Party chairman — to put pressure on Spanish officials to drop a criminal investigation into the Bush administration’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

In the spring of 2009, Spanish Judge Balthasar Garzon launched an inquiry into six Bush officials linked to the torture policy. They were then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; Cheney adviser David Addington; Pentagon lawyer William Haynes; Pentagon official Douglas Feith; and Jay Bybee and John Yoo from the Office of Legal Counsel.

According to Mother Jones‘ David Corn, US officials began to put pressure on Spain almost as soon as the probe was announced.

Soon after the request was made, the US embassy in Madrid began tracking the matter. On April 1, embassy officials spoke with chief prosecutor Javier Zaragoza, who indicated that he was not pleased to have been handed this case, but he believed that the complaint appeared to be well-documented and he’d have to pursue it. Around that time, the acting deputy chief of the US embassy talked to the chief of staff for Spain’s foreign minister and a senior official in the Spanish Ministry of Justice to convey, as the cable says, “that this was a very serious matter for the [US government].” The two Spaniards “expressed their concern at the case but stressed the independence of the Spanish judiciary.”

Corn reports that Mel Martinez, an ex-Republican Party chairman, along with a US embassy charge d’affaires, met with Spanish Foreign Minister Angel Lossada to discuss the prosecution. They reportedly told the foreign minister that the case “would have an enormous impact” on US-Spanish relations.

“Here was a former head of the GOP and a representative of a new Democratic administration (headed by a president who had decried the Bush-Cheney administration’s use of torture) jointly applying pressure on Spain to kill the investigation of the former Bush officials,” writes Corn. “[A]s this WikiLeaks-released cable shows, Gonzales, Haynes, Feith, Bybee, Addington, and Yoo owed Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thank-you notes.”

Judge Garzon’s probe was eventually handed over to another judge, who has effectively left the case languishing. Human rights lawyer and Harper’s writer Scott Horton said in an interview that Judge Garzon is now the target of an ethics probe in Spain.

“It becomes clear from these cables that Spanish authorities and US diplomats agreed to use this as a procedure to remove him from handling the Guantánamo torture cases, which is just astonishing,” Horton told DemocracyNow’s Amy Goodman.

Horton, who was among the first in the US to report on the existence of the Spanish investigation, says the cables show that the then-US ambassador to Spain, Eduardo Aguirre, had far too much access to the inner workings of the Spanish judiciary than a foreign diplomat should.

“We see in these cables he has been briefed in tremendous detail about everything that’s going on in these courts, which means he has sources of information that evidently include either judges or prosecutors or potentially both, and he’s actively involved in strategies to shut down these investigations. Now, if that were going on in the United States right now, a foreign ambassador were doing such thing, the foreign ambassador would probably, in short order, be invited to leave,” Horton said.

He notes in an article that Spain has been in a furor for three days over the revelations.

The revelations have “created deep concern about the independence of judges in Spain and the manipulation of the entire criminal justice system by a foreign power,” Horton writes.

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