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Open Letter to Judge Baltasar Garzón

Prolegomena

John Bolton, who was Bush’s Ambassador to the U.N. and a representative of the worst (and most dangerous) of the American Far Right, published yesterday a letter in the London newspaper The Guardian, denouncing a recent legal action by the Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón.  The letter is full of disqualifications against the Spanish judicial system (le bon mot Inquisition Bolton didn’t forget) and threats against Spain.

Spain’s illegitimate torture prosecution

Spain may prosecute Bush administration lawyers for torture. Barack Obama’s reluctance to stop it is deeply troubling.   John Bolton 7 May 2009

Of course the guiris happily ganged on Bolton and the Empire. Such shining beacons of democracy as the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland (the list of the Fait néants would be too long) and their stalwart judiciary and citizens, and let’s not forget the self-appointed Chamber of the Lords (whose peers buy their positions with cold, hard cash).  Very happy at seeing a stupid, dirt-poor third world country like Spain sticking her neck out.

Open letter to Judge Baltasar Garzón

Dr. Garzón, if you read this, you know English: I believe I voice the opinion of millions of Spanish who can not put it in English. Not just of a majority of Spaniards, but of very nearly 100% of them.
I know you lecture on Law in the USA. Rest assured, Dr. and with all due respect, that they think of you as little better than the performing dog walking on two legs that Dr. Johnson wrote about -when dealing with a different matter. Dogs don’t walk very well on two legs, but they deserve praise for doing it at all.

I am not qualified to have a legal opinion on this matter of the American lawyers, and of course neither is the Spanish people as a whole.  We may very well be wrong, and you be right.
But tell me, what is better, to be wrong, with your people, or to be right, against your people?

I believe that this prosecution could turn to be the very thin edge of a very thick wedge. Condoleeza Rice, Rumsfeld, many American military officers, Bush himself could be in line afterward.

Untold harm may come to our country over this ill-considered action.
May I remind you, Dr. Garzón, that when Spanish democracy was almost lost at the time when Tejero invaded the Spanish Parliament, General Alexander Haig Secretary of State of Ronald Reagan and Head of NATO washed his hands of the matter saying that it was an internal question of ours?
That’s the value they put on our freedoms, our laws, our well-being, nay, our very lives. They value them as nothing, and less than nothing.

The only god they worship is money.
The Americans and the British would eat our eyes, if they could derive some nourishment from them.

I am fully aware of that and so I value their freedoms, their laws, their Constitution, their society, their very lives at nothing and less than nothing in comparison to the lives and the well being of us, to put it more bluntly, they are not worth one peseta the whole lot of them, and their victims too in my opinion.

In any case if the American people need a poor Spanish judge, armed only with a law book and some legal precedents, to pull them out of their moral quagmire, then they must be beyond redemption.

I respectfully ask you, Dr. Garzón, to stop this prosecution and limit yourself to our own matters.
Let the Americans clean their own pigsty.
I remain, Sir, your humble servant
A. G. L.
PS. Would you be so kind, Dr. Garzón to forward this letter to your colleague [ I forget his name, he’s been in the news a lot less time than you ] who is fighting for the freedoms of Tibet (wherever that may be: In school I was taught that the Everest is a navigable river, and a whole lot of good it has ever done for me) battling against the mighty Chinese and remind him that Don Quixote died long ago and today is the hour of Sancho Panza?  I want to eat eggs fried with chorizo, and to me the freedoms of the world matter nothing. Nothing at all.

El artículo de Bolton

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Para la información de Ud

President Obama’s passivity before the threatened foreign prosecution of Bush administration officials achieves by inaction what he fears doing directly. This may be smart politics within the Democratic party, but it risks grave long-term damage to the United States. Ironically, it could also come back to bite future Obama administration alumni, including the president, for their current policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Obama has taken ambiguous, and flatly contradictory, positions on whether to prosecute Bush administration advisers and decision makers involved in “harsh interrogation techniques”. Although he immunized intelligence operatives who conducted the interrogations, morale at the CIA is at record lows. The president has played to the crowd politically, but the principles underlying his policies are opaque and continually subject to change. This hardly constitutes leadership.

Despite uncertainties here, developments overseas proceed apace. Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón opened a formal investigation last week of six Bush administration lawyers for their roles in advising on interrogation techniques. Garzón did so over the objections of Spain’s attorney general, as he did in 1998 in proceeding against former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet. Under Spain‘s inquisitorial judicial system, Garzón is essentially unaccountable, whatever the views of Spain’s elected government.

Asked repeatedly about Garzón’s investigation, the state department has said only that it is a matter for the Spanish judicial system. Last week, attorney general Eric Holder went further, implying that the Obama administration could cooperate.  “Obviously, we would look at any request that would come from a court in any country and see how and whether we should comply with it,” Holder said.

This is deeply troubling. Obama appears to be following the John Ehrlichman approach, letting the US lawyers “twist slowly, slowly in the wind“. Garzón’s is far from a run-of-the-mill police investigation in which an American tourist abroad runs afoul of some local ordinance. Indeed, from what appears publicly, US consular officials would do more for the tourist than Obama is doing for the former Bush officials. If Obama is attempting to end the Garzón investigation, it is one of our best-kept secrets in decades.

Although the six lawyers are in a precarious position, they are only intermediate targets. The real targets are President Bush and his most senior advisers, and the real aim is to intimidate US officials into refraining from making hard but necessary decisions to protect our national security.

There is never a shortage of second-guessers about US foreign policy. For example, former UN high commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson said during the Nato-Serbia war over Kosovo that “civilian casualties are human rights victims”. She asked: “If it is not possible to ascertain whether civilian buses are on bridges, should those bridges be blown?”

The question here is not whether one agrees or disagrees with the advice the lawyers gave, or with their superiors’ operative decisions concerning interrogation techniques. Nor is it even whether one believes our justice department should launch criminal investigations into their actions. (I believe strongly that criminalising policy disagreements is both inappropriate and destructive.)

Instead, the critical question is who judges the official actions that US personnel took while holding government office. Is it our own executive and judicial branches, within our constitutional structures and protections, or some unaccountable foreign or international magistrate in some unaccountable distant court? The proper US position is to insist that our constitution alone governs any review of our officials’ conduct.

This issue is not abstract. For the six lawyers, it has immediate effects on their lives, careers and families. Moreover, whether or not Obama has decided against prosecuting CIA agents, his decision in no way binds the creative mind of Señor Garzón, a man who has never shied from spotlights. Indeed, UN special rapporteur Manfred Nowak has already said that the other 145 states party to the Convention Against Torture must launch their own criminal investigations if the United States does not.

Behind-the-scenes diplomacy is often the best, and sometimes the only, way to accomplish important policy objectives, and one hopes that such efforts are underway. But in this case, firm and public statements are necessary to stop the pending Spanish inquisition and to dissuade others from proceeding. The president must abandon his Ehrlichman-like policy and pronounce unequivocally that Spain should take whatever steps are necessary to stop Garzón.

Otherwise, in four or eight years, like Mary Robinson before them, future second-guessers will decide, say, that US drone attacks in Pakistan constitute war crimes, and that former commander in chief Obama must be hauled before the bar of some mini-state to stand trial. After all, his decisions involve risking civilian deaths, not just shoving terrorists into a wall (and no protective neck braces, either).

Will President Obama’s successor vigorously dispute the legitimacy of foreign prosecutions, or will she follow the current Obama policy and let the foreign investigation proceed, perhaps even to trial? Obama and his advisers should think carefully about that second scenario – now.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Post.
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