Vengeance vs. pragmatic politics

My friend César Chelala has just written a vigorous denunciation of Cándido Conde Pumpido, Spain’s attorney general, for saying "that he wouldn’t recommend going ahead with a probe of six former US officials over allegations that they gave legal support for conducting torture at Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba." (See Bush Six Should Be Indicted.) The six miscreants are former US Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales; ex-Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington; former Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee and Pentagon lawyer William J. Haynes II.

Well, yes and no, César. Yes, morally and psychologically, it would be good to see those guys squirm and to teach a lesson to any other government officials who might be tempted to commit such crimes. But politically, Spain's taking on this case would be a bad move for two reasons, one of them strictly internal to Spain.

The non-Spanish reason is what the ever-astute Obama implied when he said we should be looking forward, not back. An indictment in Spain or any other country would necessarily take up political resources (media attention, government expense) that his administration wants (correctly, in my opinion) to concentrate on its other enormous challenges. It would just give the usual rightwing bloviators (I love that word bloviator -- who invented it?) more material for firing up chauvinistic emotion and confusing voters (example: if Obama doesn't defend those Bush officials, he'll be accused by that crowd of treason and bowing to some foreign, puny power; if he should defend the six, he knows he'd lose the support of a lot of the rest of us. Better to just let it alone).

OK, accept that reasoning or not (I find it persuasive), here's the specifically Spanish reason: There is a huge campaign here by the unreconstructed hard right to find any grounds whatever to discredit Judge Baltasar Garzón -- which is probably why the case landed in his court. This is because Garzón has uncovered massive corruption (nothing to do with Guantánamo or with international politics; it's all about money for political favors) by some of the biggest honchos of the Partido Popular. Garzón has also been a key judge pursuing ETA terrorists (the right approves of that, but not out loud, because they don't want to give Garzón any credit). Garzón himself is bullheaded enough to go ahead to do what he thinks is right regardless of the political consequences -- once a card-carrying Socialist, he brought the case that brought down the Socialist government of his one-time friend Felipe González in 1996 (uncovering the "dirty war" against ETA by the government's Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL)-- see the RTVE article on Garzón). That makes him very unusual and admirable. But he doesn't need this case, which seems to have been designed by Partido Popular strategists to create a fight between him and the U.S. Government and make it harder for him pursue those corruption cases.

If we want those six to be indicted, we should press to do it in the U.S. courts. It's the only dignified thing to do, rather than let some other country tell us what is right. And let's get Cheney, too.

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