Spain Investigates What America Should

As an American I find this embarrassing. We have become so derelict in our legal and moral responsibilities that we have to leave it to the Spanish to take the lead in enforcing what are not only international laws but American laws (to say nothing of principles), which unequivocally ban the use of torture in any circumstance and for any reason.

I guess it is no surprise, though, that the Spanish are taking the lead on this considering their groundbreaking role in enforcing international human rights law with the precedent-setting criminal indictments submitted by Spanish courts back in the late 90’s for the extradition of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Though they didn’t get him at the time, they certainly raised the bar of accountability which is now coming into play on issues like this.

A Spanish court has initiated criminal proceedings against six former officials of the Bush administration. John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes and Douglas Feith may face charges in Spain for authorizing torture at Guantánamo Bay….

Does Spain have the authority to prosecute Americans for crimes that didn’t take place on Spanish soil?

The answer is yes. It’s called “universal jurisdiction.” Universal jurisdiction is a well-established theory that countries, including the United States, have used for many years to investigate and prosecute foreign nationals for crimes that shock the conscience of the global community. It provides a critical legal tool to hold accountable those who commit crimes against the law of nations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Without universal jurisdiction, many of the most notorious criminals would go free. Countries that have used this as a basis to prosecute the most serious of crimes should be commended for their courage. They help to create a just world in which we all seek to live.

Israel used universal jurisdiction to prosecute, convict and execute Adolph Eichmann for his crimes during the Holocaust, even they had no direct relationship with Israel.

A federal court in Miami recently convicted Chuckie Taylor, son of the former Liberian president, of torture that occurred in Liberia. A U.S. court sentenced Taylor to 97 years in prison in January.


When the United States ratified the Convention Against Torture, it promised to extradite or prosecute those who commit, or are complicit in, the commission of torture.

And before some readers get in a snit about this being a subversion of American sovereignty by those pinkos at the U.N., keep in mind it was the United States which helped establish the very notion of universal jurisdiction way back in 1789 with the Alien Tort Claims Act.

Read the full article in The San Francisco Chronicle

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