ABC Jumps to Publicize Spanish Judge's Quest to Charge Bush Officials

ABC on Sunday night jumped to beat the other networks with the news that a judge in Spain may issue arrest warrants charging several former Bush administration officials with violating the Convention Against Torture. World News Sunday anchor Dan Harris announced: “Six former high level officials of the Bush administration are being targeted tonight by a court in, of all places, Spain. This court is considering whether to open a criminal investigation into allegations that the six officials gave legal cover for the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.”

Narrating off-camera from London, reporter Hilary Brown began with how “the six officials named in the case include Alberto Gonzales, the former Attorney General who famously described parts of the Geneva Convention as 'quaint' and 'obsolete.'” She outlined the case: “The Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon, says he has the right to prosecute American officials because four Spanish citizens formerly held at Guantanamo say they were tortured there. And Garzon says the U.S. officials broke international law, specifically, the 1984 Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. signed.”

Brown conceded it's unlikely any arrest warrant would be enforced by the U.S., but she saw a benefit, nonetheless, as she suggested “this case may end up putting pressure on the Obama administration to open its own investigation, something it has resisted so far.”

Brown led her online posting: “In what may turn out to be a landmark case...” The ABCNews.com story: “'Torture' Could Haunt Bush Officials: Spanish Judge Who Went After Pinochet Considers Charges for Gonzales, Others.”

A Sunday New York Times article, “Spanish Court Weighs Inquiry on Torture for 6 Bush-Era Officials,” with more on the matter.

The story on the March 29 World News Sunday on ABC:
DAN HARRIS: Six former high level officials of the Bush administration are being targeted tonight by a court in, of all places, Spain. This court is considering whether to open a criminal investigation into allegations that the six officials gave legal cover for the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Hilary Brown has that story.

HILARY BROWN: The six officials named in the case include Alberto Gonzales, the former Attorney General who famously described parts of the Geneva Convention as “quaint” and “obsolete.”

ALBERTO GONZALES, JANUARY 6, 2005: I think the decision not to apply Geneva in our conflict with al Qaeda was absolutely the right decision for a variety of reasons.

BROWN: Others include John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer who wrote the so-called "torture memo" justifying water-boarding and other extreme interrogation methods. The Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon, says he has the right to prosecute American officials because four Spanish citizens formerly held at Guantanamo say they were tortured there. And Garzon says the U.S. officials broke international law, specifically, the 1984 Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. signed. A lawyer close to the case says arrest warrants could be issued within weeks. But, if so, would these officials be extradited?

KENNETH ROTH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: I think it's unlikely that the U.S. government will turn over a former Bush official who is ultimately indicted for torture. But an Interpol arrest warrant will be issued, meaning that these officials cannot travel any place without risking being arrested.

BROWN: This is not the first time Judge Garzon has gone after officials from other countries. In 1998, General Augusto Pinochet, former dictator of Chile, was detained on a Garzon arrest warrant while visiting London. But after two years, he was eventually allowed to go home to Chile and died peacefully eight years later without being convicted.
    
But this case may end up putting pressure on the Obama administration to open its own investigation, something it has resisted so far. Hilary Brown, ABC News, London.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center