Sometimes you can't make it up.
Spain was said to be readying an indictment of six Bush administration senior legal officials. For giving advice to the president that Spain says resulted in the torture at Guantanamo Bay of five terrorists, Spanish citizens all.
Then, something curious happened. Bill O'Reilly, using the powerful podium that is his Fox News television show The O'Reilly Factor, threatened a boycott:
"There will be a boycott and there will be ill will towards Spain. This is going to become a huge story and it's not going to be good for Spain."
Out of the blue, within days Spain suddenly ducked and backed away, refusing to issue indictments threatened for months.
The Spanish Attorney General, Candido Conde-Pumpido, abruptly declared there was no merit to a case charging torture because none of the six US officials were present when the torture occurred. The "Bush Six" as they are known include former White House counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney's chief of staff; Douglas Feith, under secretary of defense for Donald Rumsfeld; William Haynes, the Pentagon's ex-general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee. The last two were senior Justice Department legal advisers and Bybee is now a sitting federal judge.
News of this in hand, O'Reilly sat smiling as Megyn Kelly, a Fox host and lawyer, did a clinical analysis of the sudden change of the Spanish heart. Then the two had this exchange:
O'REILLY: Now, I don't know whether "The Factor" was a Factor in this decision, but I am taking full credit for it.
O'REILLY: You bet. Because Spain, according to the Economist magazine, is pushing 19 percent unemployment. We were going to boycott Spain. That means millions of Americans would have at least been exposed to the idea. And they folded pretty darn fast. We started this last week. Today no mas.…Well, we're taking full credit for that, ladies and gentlemen, whether deserved or not.
Was this Spanish change of heart driven by a secret fear that even O'Reilly had not yet understood -- but could soon discover if Spain persisted with the Bush Six prosecution? And with the announcement by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón that he will ignore the Spanish government's decision and open an investigation into allegations of torture against the Bush Six, is there still more to discover about allegations of torture not only against the Spanish government but against Baltasar Garzón himself? Allegations that effectively make Garzón Spain's version of the waterboarding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?
The place to start with this curious tale is, of all places, the United Nations.
On March 23, 2004, one Theo van Boven, a Dutch investigator employed by the United Nations as a "Special Rapporteur," filed an official 23-page report with his superiors at the UN's Commission on Human Rights. The subject? Spanish treatment of Basque separatists who have committed violence against Spain -- terrorists. The title: "Civil and Political Rights, Including the Questions of: Torture and Detention." The subtitle? "Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Van Boven's UN report flatly accuses the Spanish government of running a system that "as it is practised allows torture or ill-treatment to occur, particularly with regards to persons detained incommunicado in connection with terrorist-related activities." In other words, the very nation that planned to go after American presidential advisers with accusations of torture is itself officially accused by the United Nations of "more than sporadically" practicing torture.
Van Boven also takes a shot at the Spanish legal system that Garzón is now using to target the "Bush Six," noting the "questionable impartiality and independence of internal accountability mechanisms with regard to law enforcement officials"
There's more, and it's not pretty.
In Section Two of his report van Boven says that Spanish authorities stood accused of delivering "beatings to the head" of captured terrorists when they weren't forcing them to "stand for long periods" while enduring "threats," "humiliation," "insults," "sleep deprivation," and "questioning without legal counseling."
Perhaps most interesting is this section of the UN findings, findings which the Spanish government rejected outright:
The Special Rapporteur has observed a reluctance to discuss the occurrence and extent of the practice of torture in Spain as torture has become a highly politically charged issue. The prevailing opinion among authorities interviewed by the Special Rapporteur was that reports of torture by persons detained in connection with counter-terrorism measures were false and made systematically as part of the ETA [Basque] strategy to undermine the Spanish criminal justice system. The Government provided the Special Rapporteur with a document reportedly found in the residence of members of the "ARABA/98" terrorist squad arrested on 19 March 1998. The document is said to provide instructions on how to claim that one was tortured when in detention. The decree of silence that surrounds the subject and the denial by authorities without investigating the allegations of torture has made it particularly difficult to provide the necessary monitoring of protection and guarantees.
In other words, if Basque terrorists complain about torture, to the Spanish authorities it's all about a strategy "to undermine the Spanish criminal justice system." If Islamic radicals in Guantanamo pursue the same strategy with Americans, the Spanish want to indict members of the Bush administration.
The hypocrisy of all this was perhaps too much for the Spanish Attorney General. His government knew two things: First, Bill O'Reilly was on their trail. Second, the UN report of Spanish torture could easily be discovered and used to humiliate the Spanish government if discovered by someone with any clout. Like the boycotting O'Reilly.
Now the tale gets even more curious.
The only Spaniard still intent on applying what he calls principles of "universal justice" to those suspected of torture is Baltasar Garzón, a flamboyant leftwing Spanish judge. Garzón, a longtime Spanish socialist, has made a name for himself by going after non-Spanish governmental figures. He had an arrest warrant issued for ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet over the alleged torture of Spanish citizens, and set his sights on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for alleged misdeeds of finance (Berlusconi) and policy (Kissinger's relationship with Pinochet).
But there is a twist here that makes Garzón a Spanish version of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi, of course, has gotten herself in the news for a furious opposition to CIA waterboarding of terrorists held by the U.S. -- only to face allegations from Republican colleagues that she herself was not only briefed by the CIA on waterboarding but approved of it at the time she was first informed as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
What is not publicized in the American media is that Garzón fights Basque separatists as if he were Pinochet reborn, banning political parties, sending police to close their offices, denying them a place on election ballots and shutting down their media outlets, in the latter case a Basque newspaper and radio station. Indeed, his attempt to extradite a suspected Basque terrorist from Argentina was denied by an Argentine judge precisely on the grounds that prisoner Jesús María Iriondo would be -- yes indeed -- tortured were he to be placed in the hands of Baltasar Garzón and the Spanish government. Said the Argentine public prosecutor in requesting the denial:
Spain should provide adequate guarantees for the physical, mental and social welfare of the prisoner, in order to prevent Argentina from committing an illegal act... Put another way, to avoid the danger of torture and thus the international liability that our country would incur…
He won his case by convincing Argentine federal judge Claudio Bonadío that "Extradition [to Spain] is not applicable where there are sound reasons for assuming that the prisoner might be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or penalties…"
The Argentine judge was so distrusting of Garzón and the Spanish that he specifically cited the UN report of Theo van Boven in demanding that any attempt by the Argentine government to meet Garzón's request have as a "precondition for handing over the prisoner to the custody of the Spanish State…unequivocal guarantees for [suspected terrorist] Jesús María Lariz Iriondo." The guarantees? Among several reported by the Real Instituto Elcano were that the prisoner "will not be held incommunicado"; that he always have access "to a lawyer of his own choosing, including the right to consult with him or her in total privacy"; that he may "inform his family of the crime of which he is accused and the place of his arrest." The Argentine specifically noted that "all interrogations begin with the identification of those present and be recorded on video, including the identification of all those present, with the express prohibition of being blindfolded or wearing hoods."
In other words, Argentina had reason to believe that if it allowed an alleged Spanish terrorist to be extradited into the hands of Baltasar Garzón, a judge already on record for banning political parties, denying ballot space to those parties, and shutting down a newspaper and radio station, the prisoner would be subjected to the kind of abuses of which the United Nations has specifically accused the Spanish government: "beatings to the head," forcing prisoners to "stand for long periods" while enduring "threats," "humiliation," "insults," "sleep deprivation" and -- an interesting accusation when realizing Garzón is a judge -- "questioning without legal counseling." Precisely the grounds for which Garzón seeks to prosecute the Bush Six.
This kind of hypocrisy might even make Nancy Pelosi blush.
Predictably, the Garzón investigation of the Bush Six is already a cause for celebration in the American left-wing media. The Daily Kos has invited people to "Reject Torture -- Become a fan of Baltasar Garzón on Facebook."
MSNBC quickly jumped on Baltasar Garzón's bandwagon with the following headline on its website:
Spanish judge opens Guantanamo investigation
Probe targets 'authors' of torture, accomplices and those who gave orders
There was, wonder of wonders, not a single word in the Associated Press story that followed informing readers the Spanish government had been the subject of torture allegations by the United Nations and that a specific request by Judge Garzón for extradition of a terrorist to his custody was rejected by the Argentine judge Bonadio -- for fears the prisoner would be tortured.
As O'Reilly would surely say: the spin stops here.