Here are just two examples of Washington pressuring nations not to pursue investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by the US post 9/11. Real democracy in action.
US officials tried to influence Spanish prosecutors and government officials to head off court investigations into Guantánamo Bay torture allegations, secret CIA “extraordinary rendition” flights and the killing of a Spanish journalist by US troops in Iraq, according to secret US diplomatic cables.
Among their biggest worries were investigations pursued by the magistrate Baltasar Garzón, who US officials described as having “an anti-American streak”.
“We are certainly under no illusions about the individual with whom we are dealing,” they said after he opened an investigation into torture at Guantánamo Bay prison camp. “Judge Garzon has been a storied and controversial figure in recent Spanish history, whose ambition and pursuit of the spotlight may be without rival.”
The revelations contained in the leaked documents will be embarrassing to Spanish prosecutors who shared information on cases they were involved in, and whose identities the Americans wanted protected.
They included the attorney general, Candido Conde-Pumpido, national court chief prosecutor, Javier Zaragoza, and fellow prosecutor Vicente González Mota, responsible for the CIA flights affair.
Zaragoza is revealed as a valuable source who accuses Garzón of opening some human rights cases in order to “drum up more speaking fees”. He proved to be an ally as the US tried to stem a flood of investigations at Spain‘s national court – one of the world’s most vigorous courts in exercising international jurisdiction over human rights crimes.
A major worry was a torture case brought by a Spanish non-governmental organisation against six senior Bush administration officials, including the former attorney general Alberto Gonzales.
Senator Mel Martinez, a former Republican party chairman, and the US embassy’s charge d’affaires visited the Spanish foreign ministry to warn the investigation would have consequences. “Martinez and the charge underscored that the prosecutions would … have an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship,” the officials reported.
Officials in Madrid discussed with Zaragoza ways in which a US investigation into the same allegations might be opened in order to force the Spanish court to close its own case. “Zaragoza has also told us that if a proceeding regarding this matter were underway in the US, that would effectively bar proceedings in Spain. We intend to further explore this option with him informally,” they said.
Garzón, who opened a separate torture investigation, was deemed to put self-promotion first. “We suspect Garzón will wring all the publicity he can from the case unless and until he is forced to give it up,” said the officials.
“Zaragoza said he had challenged Garzón directly and personally on this latest case, asking if he was trying to drum up more speaking fees,” they reported.
They noted that Garzón was already in hot water over his investigation into human rights crimes committed under Spain’s former dictator General Francisco Franco. As a result Garzón now looks set to be removed from his job by supreme court judges next year.
“Zaragoza doubts Garzón will risk a second such complaint,” they said.
But US officials worried he would go down fighting. “It is hard for us to see why the publicity-loving Garzón would shut off his headline-generating machine unless forced to do so,” they reported. “We also fear Garzón – far from being deterred by threats of disciplinary action – may welcome the chance for martyrdom, knowing the case will attract worldwide attention.”
When another Spanish magistrate began investigating the alleged use of a Spanish airport for secret CIA flights carrying terror suspects, officials noted that US policy was to deal with these cases in closed-door conversations with governments.
They were especially alarmed when magistrates and prosecutors in both Spain and Germany began comparing notes. “This co-ordination among independent investigators will complicate our efforts to manage this case at a discreet government-to-government level,” they warned.
So far, the 251,287 secret State Department cables leaked by Wikileaks have been more embarrassing to the United States than particularly revealing. But one exchange between U.S. and German officials reveals a sad reality about the tangled web woven by the Bush administration when it decided to engage in torture — and highlights how President Obama has kept the U.S. ensnared by that legacy.
According to this leaked document, the U.S. State Department in 2007 warned Germany that issuance of arrest warrants for CIA officers involved in the kidnapping of an innocent German citizen, Khalid El-Masri, imprisoned for months in Afghanistan and allegedly tortured there would “have a negative impact” on the two countries’ relationship. Indeed, Deputy Chief of Mission John M. Koenig reminded German Deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel that a similar move by Italy, which a year earlier had prosecuted CIA officers for their involvement in the kidnapping from Milan and rendition to Egypt of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, had “repercussions to U.S.-Italian bilateral relations.”
According to the cable, which appears to summarize the two officials’ conversation, “The DCM pointed out that our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German Government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S.”
Scott Horton at Harpers adds details to this last case:
The El-Masri cable suggests that the Embassy in Berlin was trying to protect thirteen CIA agents then subject to an arrest warrant. These agents’ true names are now known, and an arrest warrant continues to hang over them–now issued by Spanish prosecutors after American diplomatic pressure effectively chilled the German investigation. But the most noteworthy thing about this cable is the addressee—Condoleezza Rice. Might she and her legal advisor, John Bellinger, have had an interest in the El-Masri case that went beyond their purely professional interest in U.S.-German diplomatic relations? The decision to “snatch” El-Masri and lock him up in the “salt pit” involved the extraordinary renditions program, and it seems as a matter of routine that this would have required not only the approval of the CIA’s top echelon but also the White House-based National Security Council. It’s highly likely that Rice and Bellinger would have been involved in the decision to “snatch” and imprison El-Masri. If authority was given by Rice, then responsibility for the mistake—which might well include criminal law accountability—may also rest with her, and this fact would also not have escaped Koenig as he performed his diplomatic duties.