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16. US Presidents Charged with Crimes Against Humanity as Universal Jurisdiction Dies in Spain

In October 2009, under great pressure from the United States, the government of Spain decided to limit its own jurisdiction in cases of genocide and crimes against humanity, thus closing one of the last windows of accountability for the most serious crimes committed by the most powerful nations on Earth. Under international law, such crimes fall under the universal jurisdiction of any nation, whether one’s own citizens are victims or not. The logic is that crimes against humanity are offenses against every member of the human species—a crime against all.

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Spain had been a venue for bringing high crimes charges against human rights violators in Guatemala, Argentina, China, Israel, and elsewhere. Most of the lawsuits have been against individuals linked to the untouchable political right, such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, the Argentine military officer Adolfo Scilingo, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and six of his senior advisors, and most recently, former George W. Bush administration officials.

Calls to reign in the judges increased when Spanish magistrates announced probes involving Israel and the United States.

In January 2009, Spanish National Court Judge Fernando Andreu announced he would investigate seven current or former Israeli officials over a 2002 air attack in Gaza that killed a top member of Hamas and fourteen other people. In March 2009, Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s most high-profile judge, invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction when he sought to investigate six former Bush administration officials for giving legal cover to torture in the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. And in May 2009, another Spanish high-court judge, Santiago Pedraz, declared he would charge three US soldiers with crimes against humanity for the April 2003 deaths of a Spanish television cameraman and a Ukrainian journalist. The men were killed when a US tank crew shelled their Baghdad hotel.

Activist judges like Garzón, Andreu, and Pedraz have created a big diplomatic headache for the Zapatero government. China has warned Spain that bilateral relations could be damaged over a case regarding Tibet, and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told Spain that it risks being sidelined in the Middle East peace process.

But the Spanish government is most worried about the negative impact the Guantánamo probe may have on relations with the United States. Zapatero has raised expectations of Spanish voters with the promise he can forge warm ties to the Obama administration. Indeed, other European leaders have distanced themselves from the Spanish position, fearful of jeopardizing future relations with Washington.

Reporter Glen Ford noted that the world’s biggest potential defendant for war crimes and crimes against humanity is the United States, whose record of direct and indirect involvement in torture and mass killings has been unmatched by any other nation since at least World War II. It was primarily US pressure that forced Spain to close off its courts from international jurisdiction cases.

A motion separate from Judge Garzón’s was filed on April 27, 2010, by the New York–based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is seeking to intervene as a party in the criminal investigation currently pending into the US torture program in Guantánamo. The investigation focuses on the torture and abuse of four former Guantánamo detainees with strong ties to Spain. CCR determines that, because of the nature of the alleged crimes and Spain’s obligations as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture in particular, Spain should retain jurisdiction over this case.

“For eight long years we have fought to redress the brutal, inhumane and illegal acts perpetrated against our clients but have been blocked at every turn by both the Bush and Obama administrations,” said CCR President Michael Ratner, who filed the first habeas corpus petition brought on behalf of a Guantánamo detainee in 2002. “We come to Spain in pursuit of nothing less than justice, which, sadly, is not available in the United States.”

One day before the change in Spanish law, a number of members of the BRussells Tribunal, acting under the umbrella of the International Initiative to Prosecute US Genocide in Iraq, filed charges of crimes against humanity and genocide against four presidents of the United States and four prime ministers of Great Britain. The charges cite 1.5 million Iraqi deaths over the course of nineteen years of American and British attacks, including two full-scale wars of aggression, the “most draconian sanctions regime ever designed,” and subsequent occupation of Iraq. Half a million of the dead, according to the charges, were children.

In parallel, Iraq’s rich heritage and unique cultural and archaeological patrimony has been wantonly destroyed. In order to render Iraq dependent on US and UK strategic designs, successive US and UK governments have attempted to partition Iraq and to establish by military force a pro-occupation Iraqi government and political system. They have promoted and engaged in the massive plunder of Iraqi natural resources, attempting to privatize the property and wealth of the Iraqi nation. So massive and systematic were the assaults on Iraq, stretching for roughly a generation, the accusers charge the US and the UK with the deliberate destruction of a nation.

The defendants are George Herbert Walker Bush, William J. Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Hussein Obama, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Anthony Blair, and Gordon Brown. The suit holds that each has played a key role in Iraq’s intended destruction—that they instigated, supported, condoned, rationalized, executed and/or perpetuated, or excused this destruction based on lies and narrow strategic and economic interests, and against the will of their own people. The BRussels Tribunal asserts that allowing those responsible to escape accountability means such actions could be repeated elsewhere.

The global clearinghouse for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide is the International Criminal Court. However Ford notes that in recent years that court has prosecuted no one but Africans and is increasingly exposed as a tool of Western hegemony. The United States refuses to join the International Criminal Court, and thus claims immunity from prosecution.

Update by Glen Ford

Lawless United States has been offered a job as International Court enforcer. The impunity with which the United States and Britain caused the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis and the displacement of 4.7 million more during two decades of uninterrupted aggression (1990 to present), is eclipsed in scale of slaughter by the genocide in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). An estimated 6 million Congolese have died since the main US proxies in the region, Uganda’s dictator Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s ruling Tutsi military, poured across the DRC’s borders in pursuit of approximately 1 million Rwandan Hutus displaced in the 1994 Rwandan civil war, including the defeated Hutu militia.

Ugandan and Rwandan military commanders quickly established control over mining operations in the mineral-rich region, providing raw materials to US- and Europe-based extraction corporations—a mutually profitable business relationship that thrives in an environment of terror and massacre. Despite the fact that their activities in eastern Congo have resulted in a holocaust equal to that under the Nazis, Rwanda and Uganda enjoy impunity as Washington’s most loyal clients in Black Africa. US corporate media, led by their collective noses by the US State Department, find genocidaires lurking everywhere in Africa except among the US proxies in Kampala and Kigali.

Having failed to prosecute anyone but Africans since its creation in 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) now actively woos the US, the world’s most prolific perpetrator and sponsor of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, as global enforcer of ICC indictments. The US refuses to join the ICC, for fear it might be prosecuted for its own crimes (only the 111 nations that have ratified the treaty fall under its jurisdiction). Yet ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo openly lobbies for the US to head up a “coalition of the willing” to deploy “special forces” as the enforcement arm of the Hague-based court.

Moreno-Ocampo apparently believes the global quest for justice would be empowered by access to the “rare and expensive capabilities” of the world’s most active war-maker, as reported by scholar-journalists Adam Branch and Samar Al-Bulushi in the African journal Pambazuka. The US also sees no contradiction in acting as enforcer of international laws it neither respects nor recognizes as binding. Stephen Rapp, US ambassador at large for war crimes, said Washington “can support this court constructively when it works in our interest. And so far in the cases it is taking on, they are in our interests and in the interest of all of humankind.”

The US was the center of attention, although officially only an observer, at the ICC’s latest conference (May 31–June 11) in Kamala, Uganda. “It’s hard to emphasize how happy countries are to see us here,” said State Department legal adviser Harold Koh. “They felt very distressed at the period of US hostility to the court.” Washington remains, of course, unalterably opposed to any limits on its superpower prerogatives, but welcomes Moreno-Ocampo’s invitation to enforce the ICC’s highly selective indictments.

The world’s biggest bully—a nation that proudly proclaims that the law ends where its own interests begin—is being offered the marshal’s badge. Justice cannot possibly be served.

Update by Ad Hoc Committee For Justice For Iraq

In October 2009, we filed in Madrid—on behalf of Iraqi victims—a legal case against four US presidents and four UK prime ministers under laws of universal jurisdiction for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Iraq. Our case spans nineteen years, including thirteen years of sanctions proven to have an overwhelmingly destructive impact on Iraqi public health, and the launching of an illegal war of aggression against Iraq based on deliberate falsification and systematic efforts to hide from the general public, in the US, the UK, and elsewhere, the true objectives of the war. Sanctions led to an estimated 1.5 million excess Iraqi deaths, including 500,000 children under five. To date, estimates of violent deaths among Iraqis post-2003 run to 1.2 million. Some 5 million Iraqis have been displaced inside and outside the country—a fifth of the entire population.

Despite the enormity of the crimes, the high profile of those accused, and a full press campaign on the case, the filing got zero publicity in the mainstream English-speaking media. In Spain, it was reported once in the margins. Only the alternative media carried our press releases, and only those who listen to alternative media heard of the case. The mainstream continued to propagate the lie—supposedly a criticism—that the US-led foray into Iraq was a blunder. But it was not a blunder. Nor did the US wander blind into a quagmire. Our case charts the synchronicity of crimes committed—including the destruction of civil infrastructure, indiscriminate bombing and use of depleted uranium, and promotion of sectarianism and corruption, destruction of state institutions, urbicide, plunder, promotion of torture—all leading to, and resulting in, the intended destruction of the Iraqi state and nation. The humanitarian disaster that is present-day Iraq was an end in itself. This is what the mainstream media cannot say and conceals.

We knew when we filed our case that public pressure would be instrumental. Based on years of research and analysis, our case was filed one day before the Spanish Senate voted, under external pressure, to radically circumscribe the practice of universal jurisdiction in Spain. The silence of the mainstream media surely contributed to the result. The new law, imposed retroactively, led to the closing of our case and others. Though Spanish courts had been open to hearing human rights grievances from those unable to find redress in their own countries or by other means, and though Spain had been taking a lead role in efforts to address impunity in international affairs, that window closed, virtually without comment. In real terms, our case was censored. But not only our case that was censored: in effect, Iraq, too, has been censored.

How important is this failure of the mainstream media? The war on Iraq is not only an attack on a sovereign country, it is a frontal attack on international law. If the destruction of Iraq goes unaccounted for, what is happening to Iraq could happen anywhere. Thus we remain committed to working toward the prosecution of crimes in Iraq perpetrated by the US and the UK. Though Spain had been the clearest route for legal redress, new routes can be opened. Just as we look for allies in this work, we are ready to assist similar initiatives taken up by others.

For more information, visit www.USgenocide.org.

Sources:

Glen Ford, “Four U.S. Presidents and Four UK Prime Ministers Charged With Genocide,” Black Agenda Report, October 13, 2009, http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/four-us-presidents-and-four-uk-prime-ministers-charged-genocide.

“Justice for Iraq: Legal Case Filed U.S. Presidents and UK Prime Ministers,” Brussels Tribune, October 7, 2009, http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/printer_57154.shtml.

Center for Constitutional Rights, “CCR Seeks to Intervene in Spanish Court’s Investigations into Bush Administration’s Torture Program,” press release, April 27, 2010, http://ccrjustice.org/newsroom/press-releases/ccr-seeks-intervene-spanish-court%E2%80%99s-investigations-bush-administration%E2%80%99s-tor.

  • Phiem Nguyen October 11, 2010

    Thank you so much for doing this to mankind. We are suffering with this new colony domain in this planet today since Word War II hope that it will be changed in Nationalism now in order to end this ambitious conquer nations.

  • DGS October 15, 2010

    BRAVO to the good people fighting “the good fight” , in a real sense of the term. Keep up the GREAT work.
    Thanks to Mr Ford for writing this excellent piece.
    We do live in an Orwellian world (aka the New World Order). Its not coming its HERE
    The US and UK are the NEW REICH.
    God help us all.

  • Max Keene ( mouse ) October 24, 2010

    The Unite Nations needs , as Albert Einstein wanted and promoted, a ‘Supranational Military Force’ strong enough to stop any rogue nation from crimes againest humanity. The Armageddonites and others threaten life on planet earth more each day.

  • joey racano October 25, 2010

    Thank you for your excellent in-depth and thoughtful reporting.

    Joey Racano, Editor
    EarthSourceMedia

  • Peter Phillips December 5, 2010

    Update from Mother Jones:

    Mother Jones
    Obama and GOPers Worked Together to Kill Bush Torture Probe
    A leaked cable shows that when Spain considered a criminal case against ex-Bush officials, Obama and Republicans got really bipartisan.

    By David Corn | Wed Dec. 1, 2010 2:47 PM PST

    In its first months in office, the Obama administration sought to protect Bush administration officials facing criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies the that governed interrogations of detained terrorist suspects. A “confidential” April 17, 2009, cable [1] sent from the US embassy in Madrid to the State Department—one of the 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks—details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.

    The previous month, a Spanish human rights group called the Association for the Dignity of Spanish Prisoners had requested that Spain’s National Court indict six former Bush officials for, as the cable describes it, “creating a legal framework that allegedly permitted torture.” The six were former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, former chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; William Haynes, the Pentagon’s former general counsel; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Jay Bybee, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and John Yoo, a former official in the Office of Legal Counsel. The human rights group contended that Spain had a duty to open an investigation under the nation’s “universal jurisdiction” law, which permits its legal system to prosecute overseas human rights crimes involving Spanish citizens and residents. Five Guantanamo detainees, the group maintained, fit that criteria.

    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 USG.” The two Spaniards “expressed their concern at the case but stressed the independence of the Spanish judiciary.”

    Two weeks later, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and the embassy’s charge d’affaires “raised the issue” with another official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The next day, Zaragoza informed the US embassy that the complaint might not be legally sound. He noted he would ask Cándido Conde-Pumpido, Spain’s attorney general, to review whether Spain had jurisdiction.

    On April 15, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who’d recently been chairman of the Republican Party, and the US embassy’s charge d’affaires met with the acting Spanish foreign minister, Angel Lossada. The Americans, according to this cable, “underscored that the prosecutions would not be understood or accepted in the US and would have an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship” between Spain and the United States. 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. Lossada replied that the independence of the Spanish judiciary had to be respected, but he added that the government would send a message to the attorney general that it did not favor prosecuting this case.

    The next day, April 16, 2009, Attorney General Conde-Pumpido publicly declared that he would not support the criminal complaint, calling it “fraudulent” and political. If the Bush officials had acted criminally, he said, then a case should be filed in the United States. On April 17, the prosecutors of the National Court filed a report [2] asking that complaint be discontinued. In the April 17 cable, the American embassy in Madrid claimed some credit for Conde-Pumpido’s opposition, noting that “Conde-Pumpido’s public announcement follows outreach to [Government of Spain] officials to raise USG deep concerns on the implications of this case.”

    Still, this did not end the matter. It would still be up to investigating Judge Baltasar Garzón [3]—a world-renowned jurist who had initiated previous prosecutions of war crimes and had publicly said that former President George W. Bush ought to be tried for war crimes—to decide whether to pursue the case against the six former Bush officials. That June—coincidentally or not—the Spanish Parliament passed legislation narrowing the use of “universal jurisdiction.” Still, in September 2009, Judge Garzón pushed ahead with the case [4].

    The case eventually came to be overseen by another judge who last spring asked the parties behind the complaint to explain why the investigation should continue. Several human rights groups filed a brief [2] urging this judge to keep the case alive, citing the Obama administration’s failure to prosecute the Bush officials. Since then, there’s been no action. The Obama administration essentially got what it wanted. The case of the Bush Six went away.

    Back when it seemed that this case could become a major international issue, during an April 14, 2009, White House briefing, I asked press secretary Robert Gibbs if the Obama administration would cooperate with any request from the Spaniards for information and documents related to the Bush Six. He said [5], “I don’t want to get involved in hypotheticals.” What he didn’t disclose was that the Obama administration, working with Republicans, was actively pressuring the Spaniards to drop the investigation. Those efforts apparently paid off, and, as this WikiLeaks-released cable shows, Gonzales, Haynes, Feith, Bybee, Addington, and Yoo owed Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thank-you notes.
    Source URL: http://motherjones.com/politics/2010/12/wikileaks-cable-obama-quashed-torture-investigation

    Links:
    [1] http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/cable/2009/04/09MADRID392.html
    [2] http://ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/spanish-investigation-us-torture
    [3] http://motherjones.com/politics/2004/03/longest-arm-law
    [4] http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/09/08/spanish-judge-resumes-torture-case-against-six-senior-bush-lawyers/
    [5] http://motherjones.com/mojo/2009/04/white-house-joking-about-torture-investigation

  • Patrick Butler December 31, 2010

    Since when are American presidents accountable to foreign countries? If our leaders have done wrong, they should be tried by Americans, not outsiders who have no business interfering in our affairs.
    We’re a soverign nation, and one of the most important, in case anyone forgot. We’re quite capable of punishing our own wrongdoers.

    • Asdf October 11, 2011

      Right, but most Americans don’t have much of an idea. Additionally, by acting as a bit of a policeman for the world, shouldn’t the US also be judged by the world?

    • Sami Mattila May 16, 2013

      Were you quoting Saddam Hussein? I guess he learned the bitter truth of such comments after all.

  • Mike January 11, 2011

    Well, Patrick butler, couldn’t the same be said for the victims of our leaders’ war crimes then? It seems like a double-standard to say we’re immune from international law after decades of violating other countries’ sovereignty and human rights.

  • AbdelIrada January 18, 2011

    Patrick Butler: We may be, in principle, “quite capable of punishing our own wrongdoers.” Unfortunately, we aren’t making any attempt to do so. And since it is often true that the country in which the accused criminal resides is influenced by his political allies and inhibited from investigating or indicting such charges, this argues the necessity for an impartial, extranational investigative and judicial entity.

    The day there is a comprehensive examination in the US of the charges against powerful political figures, such as those named in this article, and it isn’t quashed under some ersatz legal argument obviously manufactured as an ad hoc mechanism solely to prevent a prosecution embarrassing to those in authority, I will gladly revisit this question.

  • appreciated January 20, 2011

    A quite nice niche blog, and a good quality design there sparks Simplicity yet complex algorithm of the web. Thank You.

  • Mary September 15, 2011

    Freedom flows from bondage like water from the hills!  Benito Juarez
    Thank you Project Censored for your brave and intelligent reporting!  I hope all nations pay attention, women are heard and education makes its way through the quagmire of greedy profiteers!  Cold systemic evil is not humanity!  We must do at a distance what we are willing to do face to face!

  • Mary September 15, 2011

    Freedom flows from bondage like water from the hills!  Benito Juarez
    Thank you Project Censored for your brave and intelligent reporting!  I hope all nations pay attention, women are heard and education makes its way through the quagmire of greedy profiteers!  Cold systemic evil is not humanity!  We must do at a distance what we are willing to do face to face!

  • Asdf October 11, 2011

    Right, but most Americans don’t have much of an idea. Additionally, by acting as a bit of a policeman for the world, shouldn’t the US also be judged by the world?

  • W H September 12, 2012

    BE VERY CAR FULL WHEN ENTERING ANY MICHIGAN HOSPITAL,BIG BROTHER INTELLIGENT AGENCIES THAT CONTROL THE DETROIT AREA COULD BE FORCING PHYSICIANS TO WORK SLEEP DEPRIVED AFTER SUBJECTING THEM TO SLEEP DEPRIVATION VIA REMOTE ELECTRONIC HARASSMENT.

    VERY SADLY SLAVERY IS BACK WITH FULL FORCE TO THE US .BIG BROTHER INTELLIGENT AGENCIES REMOTE ELECTRONIC HARASSMENT HAS BROUGHT SLAVERY BACK .

  • W H September 12, 2012

    BE VERY CAR FULL WHEN ENTERING ANY MICHIGAN HOSPITAL,BIG BROTHER INTELLIGENT AGENCIES THAT CONTROL THE DETROIT AREA COULD BE FORCING PHYSICIANS TO WORK SLEEP DEPRIVED AFTER SUBJECTING THEM TO SLEEP DEPRIVATION VIA REMOTE ELECTRONIC HARASSMENT.

    VERY SADLY SLAVERY IS BACK WITH FULL FORCE TO THE US .BIG BROTHER INTELLIGENT AGENCIES REMOTE ELECTRONIC HARASSMENT HAS BROUGHT SLAVERY BACK .

  • Sami Mattila May 16, 2013

    Were you quoting Saddam Hussein? I guess he learned the bitter truth of such comments after all.