Thursday, October 30, 2014

A surprising ruling in Spain

A Spanish military court has rejected an indictment of five soldiers charged with torturing unidentified detainees in Iraq. A full report, in Spanish, appears in El Pais:
[I]n a surprising interpretation, the court ensures that the scope of protection of the Geneva Conventions, the basis of international humanitarian law, "reaches out to prisoners of war and civilian personnel, but in any case to terrorists." And it suggests the possibility that the victims of abuse were "three suspected terrorists", according to the indictment, apprehended on January 27, 2004 at the detention center Base Spain,  were "allegedly involved in an attack on Mortars Base Tegucigalpa."
The fact that "there is no certainty about the status of those attacked [who were prisoners, civilians or terrorists], reasonable uncertainty about the application [to them] of the Geneva Conventions" and even about "the rules the Spanish Armed Forces should follow in the treatment of detainees led the court to conclude that the judge rushed to issue the indictment, which is withdrawn.
The idea that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the alleged terrorists is not new. It was the doctrine applied by President George W. Bush to launch the prison camp at Guantanamo (Cuba). The US administration found that detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan were not prisoners but "unlawful enemy combatants" and therefore refused to apply the Geneva Conventions and placed them under the jurisdiction of the ad hoc military commissions. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 rejected this interpretation, ruling that military commissions were illegal and that the Geneva Conventions applied in Guantanamo. [Rough Google translation]
There is a chance the case will be pursued in civilian court, although the maximum punishment there would be much lower than in a military court (8 years versus 10-25 years). 

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