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Migeru,

Thank you for providing the additional cable locator information and for your comments.

I've finally managed to read through each of the cables while trying to understand how their release could cause so much concern.  My comments relate to the nature of such documentation, the actual content of the cables and the meaning I give to certain sections particularly with regard to the reporting (in the documents) on dialogue between various members of the Government of Spain and the staff of the US Embassy Madrid about Spanish court proceedings about the death of Journalist Jose Couso.  I chose to focus on the Jose Couso case because of its long running nature and the opportunity it affords to respond to some of the issues raised in this diary.  Some may have read, in the few comments I have made previously about the Wikileaks releases of Dept of State cable traffic, that I generally do not believe the content of these cables are likely to be of much importance or the source of great revelations.

Now, for a few disclaimers.  I do not know any of the persons named in these documents, and I know very little about the Couso case.  I do not pretend to know the workings of the Spanish judicial system or the government.  My comments may, therefore, be prejudiced towards the workings of the US systems.  Nothing I write should be interpreted to mean that I personally believe these documents are actual US Government documents or that I am expressing an opinion about the legitimacy of past, pending or future court proceedings, the legitimacy or adequacy of the US Govt. investigation into the death of Jose Couso, or about the strength of the US Govt. or Spanish National Court (Magistrate Pedraz's) cases, or the correctness of the Govt. of Spain's (non-judicial branches) efforts regarding the case.  I have nothing but sympathy for the deceased and his family and can only hope that whatever the outcome they are able to find closure at some point in time.  I am certain, however, that they will always carry the scars of their loss and for that I express my sincere condolences.  

Nine purported Embassy Madrid "cables" are published on the El Pais web site.  They range in date from 2004 to 2009 and likely do not represent all reporting regarding the Couso matter.  In fact several references appear to other cables that are not included with those published.  For reference purposes these cables are listed below in order of date dispatched together with their reference numbers and date time groups as follows:

a.  04Madrid 002804, 230824Z APR 04
b.  05Madrid 003694,  211556Z OCT 05
c.  06Madrid 000722, 221733Z MAR 06
d.  07Madrid 000082, 161709Z JAN 07
e.  07Madrid 000101, 181739Z JAN 07
f.  07Madrid 000800, 271955 APR 07
g.  07Madrid 000899, 111630Z MAY 07
h.  07Madrid 001021, 251127Z MAY 07
i.  09Madrid  000496, 221316Z MAY 09

These documents represent reporting that I would characterize as very typical between an American embassy and the US Govt. in Washington.  I strongly suspect that they are also typical of such correspondence between most embassies (regardless of nationality involved) and their central governments.  One must remember that each document represents the embassy staff's recollections, in the case of reports on meetings and personal analyses/assessments. It would be unusual for a foreign interlocutor to be asked to approve or even read such correspondence prior to its release/dispatch.  So, it is possible that the Spanish Government participants named in these documents may not agree with the wording or conclusions one might draw after reading these documents.

Regarding the representations and requests made by Embassy staff members to Govt. of Spain representatives in the Jose Couso case. I found nothing unusual.  This is what diplomats do every day.  They represent the position of the government of the country whose flag they fly to the government of the country in which they are resident/represented. They talk to people in the host Government and express their government's goals and wishes.  This is nothing more than the day to day business conducted between national governments.  One might imply that activity of this character only takes place between American diplomats and foreign governments, but that would be an erroneous conclusion.  Foreign diplomats speak to members of the US executive, legislative and judicial branch as well.  This is the every day bread and butter of diplomacy.  In the Couso case these discussions legitimately concern a citizen of Spain and his family, three American soldiers, and the respective governments' responses to the issues involving these persons.

I see nothing (from the cable content) that would lead me to believe that anything illegal took place during or as a result of these meetings, although I cannot know what actual actions Government of Spain representatives took and the documents provide no indication of such.  Several of the cables explicitly state that both sides acknowledged that neither the embassy nor Govt. of Spain representatives have any ability or the intent to subvert the cause of justice or illegally interfere with the judicial process in Spain (see Ref a, para 2; ref b, paras 2-4 (e.g. Ref b, para4 indicates that Attorney General Candido Conde-Pumpido publicly announced that the prosecutors who practice before the National Court have challenged the warrant (arrest) for lack of jurisdiction...), but these would appear to be perfectly legitimate steps.

Ref d, para 2, indicates the Embassy has been engaged with Spanish authorities at various levels...to determine the full range of possibilities in the case.  I would take this to mean legal possibilities under Spanish law having no reason to think otherwise.

Ref e, para 1, Embassy officials met with National Court Chief Prosecutor Zaragoza and asked him if Spanish authorities would be filing bilateral extradition requests.  Zaragoza responded that he hadn't reviewed the case but that his office would proceed at a deliberate pace.  They also asked if the examining magistrate (Pedraz) had made a request to Zaragoza's office to prepare a report on whether US assets could be frozen as part of the Couso's family suit against the US servicemen. Zaragoza responded that he did not.  Ref e, para 4 further indicates that the meeting with Zaragoza was to sensitize him to the US Govt's concerns in the case and its political implications.  I saw nothing there to indicate that the intent of the meeting was to dissuade Zaragoza from proceeding in a legal and professional manner.  In fact Ref f. reports that the National Court subsequently filed formal charges against the three American servicemen. The cable also notes that respected figures in the Ministry of Justice and Interior and within the Zapatero Administration agree with the US Govt's view on the legal validity of the case and had assured the Embassy that the case was so weak it would eventually crumble.

Ref g. reports contact by the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) and Spanish State Secretary for Justice Julio Perez Hernandez regarding the formal charges.  DCM expresses US Govt.'s strong concerns.  Perez states there is still time for an appeal and he understands Chief Prosecutor Zaragoza is considering an appeal.  Perez noted that "his government" shared the US Govt's concern... but that the government does not control the judiciary and it might be counter-productive to launch a formal government approach. This section would seem to imply that the government of Spain might not wish to oppose the judiciary formally, but would assist the US Govt. in a response.  This seems to be a backing down by the Govt of Spain from its previous stance.  Based information in Ref g., however, it appears the Spanish Prosecutor (Zaragoza) did appeal the case to the appeals tribunal of the National Court.

Ref h. is a routine pre-trip "scene setter" for Secretary of State Rice to help prepare her for her upcoming visit to Spain.  The Couso case is mentioned, along with a myriad of other multilateral and one other bilateral issue.

Ref i.(May 2009) reports that Judge Pedraz has issued new indictments against the three American soldiers and includes new "evidence."  It also reports that the previous case was dismissed by the Criminal Division of the National Court for lack of sufficient evidence to support the allegations.  The comment section speculates that this indictment is also likely to be appealed by the National Prosecutor's Office again for insufficient evidence. It also suggests that "Washington might wish to raise" the issue with National Court Prosecutor Zaragoza during his upcoming visit there.

 To be sure, both sides were aware of political ramifications and public opinion in Spain, (see ref b, para 5) but I see nothing to indicate that special favors or guarantees were given or implied.  It would seem that some may believe, though I can't imagine why, that a national government is required to support every judicial action that transpires within its borders.  I would guess that every day in the US, multitudes of US Government attorneys go into court somewhere to represent the government's position (by presenting a case, filing an appeal, defense, amicus brief, or other process papers) in opposition to a private party or local government plaintiff or defendant.  A prominent recent case was the US Justice Department's brief before the US Supreme Court on Arizona's immigration law SB1070. Furthermore, the Government of Mexico joined in the suit against the Arizona law.  Would anyone consider from this that US Govt. officials were spying for or conspiring with Mexico against the hapless citizens of Arizona?  Could it be possible that Government of Mexico diplomats presented their case against the Arizona law to US Government representatives in Washington and asked for their assistance in formulating a brief according to US Supreme Court standards?  Or, is it just that the US really is just the 32nd state of Mexico?

How is it possible that Govt. of Spain attorneys had a case challenged or dismissed (how many times) and the plaintiff's didn't know?  It would seem quite clear from the cables and follow-up actions that the Govt. of Spain supported the US Govt. position (following the release of the report of investigation detailed summary) all along (See Ref b, paras 1 and 2, 3 and 4 and Ref i.).  


I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Dec 16th, 2010 at 03:49:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for your comments. I can only say this: the problem is now that illegalities were committed, the problem is that the government of Spain was duplicitous. Politically, it could not publicly oppose the Couso prosecution, so all they did was underhanded while denying any pressure form the US. The Cables do give the impression that the Spanish government considered the Couso case impertinent or at the very least inconvenient. But that was never their public stance. So I am not sure that "Govt. of Spain attorneys had a case challenged or dismissed" ever. I don't think the Spanish government has actually been part in the proceedings - the Attorney General or the Chief Prosecutor at any of the courts are not part of the executive branch in Spain.

El Pais has published a bunch of material and written articles about how the Spanish government grovelled to the US government over the years. There is one cable in which the Embassy staff write that the "carrot and stick" strategy "is working" but shouldn't be overdone due to the risk of frustrating the Spanish government too much. There appears to be nothing the Spanish government would not sacrifice policywise to be best buddies with the US. And, of course, the fact that Obama has refused to visit Spain (even cancelling his attendance to a bilateral EU-US summit) to this date continues to bug the Spanish government, so they will continue to sacrifice policy to make good.

El Pais has just published an op-ed by its director (Editorials are unsigned, this is not). I'll translate some paragraphs of it in a separate comment.

Of all the ways of organizing banking, the worst is the one we have today — Mervyn King, 25 October 2010

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Dec 19th, 2010 at 07:21:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...the problem is that the government of Spain was duplicitous. Politically, it could not publicly oppose the Couso prosecution, so all they did was underhanded while denying any pressure form the US.

There appears to be nothing the Spanish government would not sacrifice policywise to be best buddies with the US.

My view is that most governments will usually give little more than lip service to matters that concern individual citizens and only really dedicate time and attention to broad issues of national concern.

The Couso family, I sense, would be far better off filing a wrongful death suit in US courts assuming there is solid evidence of wrong doing. Here their access to documents and major witnesses would be enhanced and some of the larger barriers they have faced that may involve face saving efforts by two governments would be minimized. I don't think they will ever get the accused soldiers before a Spanish court without some significant legal work in the US.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sun Dec 19th, 2010 at 02:14:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think they will ever get the accused soldiers before a non-US court, period.

Of all the ways of organizing banking, the worst is the one we have today — Mervyn King, 25 October 2010
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Dec 20th, 2010 at 04:06:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They could if Die Seriöse Leute weren't such a bunch of Quislings. They'll never get those who were politically responsible for the murder, but they might get the soldiers if they withdrew from NATO and told the US that they wouldn't come back in until and unless the US stopped murdering their citizens.

Which, incidentally, does not strike me as an unreasonable demand. Y'know, being allies and all.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Dec 20th, 2010 at 04:25:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I agree with Gringo that there's a better chance of success in the US courts. For example:

Cavalese cable car disaster - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The pilot of the military plane, Captain Richard J. Ashby, and his navigator, Captain Joseph Schweitzer, were put on trial in the United States and were found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. Later they were found guilty of obstruction of justice and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman for having destroyed a videotape recorded from the plane and were dismissed from the Marines.
And, in this day and age, suing in another country is not as daunting a prospect as before.

Of all the ways of organizing banking, the worst is the one we have today — Mervyn King, 25 October 2010
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Dec 20th, 2010 at 04:33:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the problem is nownot that illegalities were committed

Of all the ways of organizing banking, the worst is the one we have today — Mervyn King, 25 October 2010
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Dec 19th, 2010 at 06:40:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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