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

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

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.


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.