It seemed “too incredible to be true,” said El Mundo in an editorial. Spain’s most famous judge, Baltasar Garzón, who has made his name prosecuting foreigners under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” last week actually agreed to drop his investigation of six Bush administration officials. Attorney General Candido Conde-Pumpido recommended shelving the case, saying that any investigation into the infamous “torture memos,” which laid out the legal justification for America’s brutal interrogation methods, should come from the Americans. Surprisingly, Garzón meekly accepted that logic. Now we know why. He has already opened a new investigation that seeks information on everyone who authorized and carried out the alleged torture of four inmates at the U.S. prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Garzón is obviously more interested in scoring political points than in upholding the law, said ABC. Universal jurisdiction means that Spain can prosecute any war criminal, even if the crime wasn’t committed in Spain or against Spaniards. So why isn’t Garzón going after “the crimes of the Chinese or North Korean governments”? Why isn’t he “requesting an explanation from the hirsute Iranian president about the stoning of women or homosexuals,” or asking the Castro brothers about the Cuban gulags? The answer is plain: Garzón doesn’t want to right the wrongs of the world, but rather he intends to cement his reputation as a darling of the Left. He wants “to become the leader of the global cause against the Bush administration.”
That’s not entirely fair, said Julio Fariñas in La Voz de Galicia. Garzón has a track record of success. When he invoked the universal jurisdiction principle in 1998 to indict the “bloodthirsty” former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, “nearly the whole world applauded his courage and audacity.” And when he set his sights on the Argentine military junta that had “sowed terror for years,” few people complained, as there was “no other way to deliver a modicum of justice for the victims.” But since then, Spain has begun investigations into abuses in Guatemala, Rwanda, Tibet, Gaza, “and so many others that we’ve lost count.” Now Garzón is after the U.S., and let’s face it, that case is highly unlikely to result in charges. Is it really worth it for Spain to spend time and money going after all the world’s criminals?
Somebody has to do it, said Jorge Heine and Ramesh Thakur in Canada’s The Ottawa Citizen. “For decades, Washington was the chief champion of human rights as a global norm with universal relevance.” But under George W. Bush, the U.S. became a notorious human-rights abuser. If the U.S. won’t prosecute those responsible for “twisting” the law to allow abuse, some other country will have to invoke universal jurisdiction to do so. Otherwise, international courts will be seen as outposts of “judicial colonialism, where only the Africans and the defeated can be prosecuted.” It we truly want to stop torture, whoever the perpetrators happen to be, we can’t allow that to happen.