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Spain considering criminal indictments against Bush administration officials

March 30, 2009

The Daily Beast links to a New York Times story detailing the Spanish prosecutor’s efforts to secure indictments against Bush administration officials who authorized and supported the torture regime at Guantanamo Bay.

The gesture, while likely symbolic, is a welcome sign to observers who feel that not enough has been done to bring to light the possibly criminal actions of those within the Bush administration who acted in contravention of the Geneva convention and other international law. The Obama administration, perhaps understandably, appears less than enthusiastic about pursuing a criminal inquiry against members of the Bush administration. Though there are small signs, like the appointment of Dawn Johnsen to the Office of Legal Counsel, that people like Alberto Gonzales should at least be wary.

The Spanish move to indict American government personnel for torture related crimes has precedent. Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in 1998 in the United Kingdom on a Spanish warrant for the murder of Spanish citizens in Chile. But, despite the precedent, one glaring weakness (or some may say, proper limitation of) international law is the lack of blanket jurisdiction to enforce the holdings of the courts of individual countries. In other words, Spain may in the end indict any American citizen it wants but, unless one of those indicted individuals decides to visit Spain–or a country with whom Spain has an extradition agreement–there is no risk of arrest or incarceration.

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