27 December 2010

Wikileaks Cables Spain: U.S. used the arrest of a Marine from the Sixth Fleet to brand Spanish police as racist

Translated from the Spanish daily El País (with links to the cables):

An incident between agents of the Guardia Urbana of Barcelona and several crew members of the Mount Whitney, the flagship of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, in early 2009, caused a serious diplomatic incident between the governments of Madrid and Washington.. In addition, last summer, the State Department used this incident to warn Afro-American tourists traveling to Spain that they were at risk of arrest. Barcelona City Council now says that its officials were carrying out actions against petty drug dealing and scoffed at the accusations of racism.

After the altercation with the staff of the U.S. Navy, the government of Barack Obama sent a diplomatic note in February 2009 that a Marine and several colleagues were targeted at gunpoint. The U.S. Consulate General in Barcelona warned then that the Sixth Fleet had said that after that incident, it was "reluctant" to re-anchor in the Catalan port.

The case erupted on January 22, 2009, when a crew member of the Mount Whitney was "accosted" by plainclothes municipal police who "did not identify themselves properly" and that, moreover, "who pointed a gun at his shipmates " During his detention, the sailor claimed he was knocked to the ground, and that he needed several stitches in his head. He was arrested and later released without charge. "There were suggestions the incident might have been racially motivated (the crewmember was African-American)," points out a confidential note from the embassy.

The Barcelona Town Hall (responsible for the local police under Spanish law) version said: "The plainclothes officers were conducting undercover drug dealing surveillance work in the Drassanes Plaza. They detected a conversation between George Thomas Kee and two youths of North African origin, and suspected a possible drug transaction, the officers proceeded to identify the suspects."

"An agent identified himself by showing his badge, but Mr. Kee began to gesture angrily, trying to leave the scene. The agent tried to take his arm, and when a corporal approached him, Mr. Kee hit him in the neck and punched the policeman. Then a group of 15 or 20 people (marines) started approaching the police in a hostile manner, shouting in English. (...). Seeing that this group continued to move forward, the agent drew his gun pointing it toward the ground, making the group stop and begin to move back, " according to the municipal report.

Kee was taken to Pere Camps Hospital  and a corporal and an officer of the Guardia Urbana were taken to the Mutua Universal clinic suffering from "injuries of varying degrees." Kee made a statement at the Ciutat Vella (Old City) police station saying he had no intention of attacking the agents, but thought they were going to rob him, as in the US "police identify themselves to suspects by showing their badge in one hand and in the other hand they point their gun at the suspect." After he was arrested "for assault on law enforcement officers" in Les Corts police station, he was visited by a consular representative, two Liaison Officers from the Spanish Navy and two from the U.S. Navy.

Barcelona Court number 20 closed the case shortly afterwards. The internal investigation of the local police concluded without finding any irregularities in the police officers' conduct, despite finding some mistakes in their actions.

The embassy emphasized the "gravity" of the matter and "the potential negative effects that could result if the Spanish Government did not take appropriate action." The embassy sent the foreign minister a "verbal complaint" demanding an explanation of the altercation (190 015 cable).

Two weeks later, the Consul General Todd Robinson met with the Barcelona Councillor for Security and Mobility, Assumpta Escarp, along with the Quartermaster of the Guardia Urbana. The consul "told Barcelona authorities that quick communication either directly with the Commanding Officer of the ship or the Consul General might have kept the situation from spiraling out of control and causing subsequent reactions in Barcelona, Madrid, Naples, and Washington, DC" (Cable 190 628). The authoritiesvundertook to contact Sixth Fleet officials in Naples (Italy) as well as liaison officers at the base in Rota (Spain) to clarify the situation.

After a few days, the Consul wrote to the then President of the Generalitat, José Montilla, the Mayor of Barcelona, Jordi Hereu, and the director of the Guardia Urbana, Xavier Vilaro. At the same time, he contacted the Office of Human and Civil Rights. The Embassy in Madrid and the chairman of the Standing Committee on Bilateral Co-operation in Defense Affairs raised their unease with the Spanish authorities. And the Chargé d'Affaires sent a complaint to the Secretary General for Defence Policy.

After all these complaints, the only response received was a letter from Vilaró, who lamented the "inconveniences" arising from the incident and stated that the case was the subject of an internal investigation, according to the cable. The US Consul in Barcelona again met with several representatives of the City and told them the Sixth Fleet was reluctant to re-anchor in Barcelona and that the case had attracted the attention at the highest level of the Department of State. The diplomat stressed that the U.S. Government demanded "assurances that U.S. ships would be welcome to the city."

Conclusion: US Marines are quite happy dishing it out when they're holding the weapons, but can't take the heat themselves...just as well the Barcelona police didn't do as the US Marines and police do: shoot first and ask questions later...

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