2011-02-01 Cable: Spanish Politician Used for Bin Laden Photo Was Source of Tension Between U.S., Spain

Gaspar Llamazares, a Spanish politician and member of the Communist Party of Spain, is the focus of part of a recent cable released by WikiLeaks.

The cable from Madrid covers a meeting between Ambassador Solomont and Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba that touched on several topics including Haiti, Al Qaeda, training of security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and Guantanamo detainees. It also featured a conversation on Llamazares, whose photo had days ago been reported to have been used by an FBI forensic artist “to create an age-processed image of Osama bin Laden" for a "Rewards for Justice" website featuring photos of most wanted terrorists.

From 10MADRID49 on January 18, 2010:

“The Ambassador reiterated USG regret that Spanish politician and congressional deputy Gaspar Llamazares, photo had been used to create an age-processed image of Osama bin Laden. He explained that the FBI forensic artist had selected features from a database of stock reference photographs to create the image and was unaware the subject he used was a Spanish politician. He added that there was no political or other motivation, that the similarities between the photos (posted on the Rewards for Justice website) were unintentional and inadvertent. Ambassador said that the Embassy had acknowledged the error and contacted Llamazares on January 16 who seemed satisfied with our outreach. Even so, the FBI was looking into the process that led to the unintended depiction and would offer a letter of explanation. Embassy Legatt would be contacting Llamazares to set up a meeting to clarify the matter. Rubalcaba welcomed the Embassy actions to put the controversy to rest, noting that Llamazares, despite his leftist leanings, was a good chap with lots of common sense.”

Except, there is no way that Llamazares was satisfied at all with whatever explanation the Embassy offered Llamazares. One day later, the Associated Press, which broke the story on January 16, reported Llamazares “angrily rejected the United States’ apology” and “demanded the U.S. investigate the incident and take appropriate action.”

Additionally, Llamazares suggested this incident should be a cause not only of “concern but also worry and indignation over the behavior of the FBI.” He asked for a guarantee that the images were not “still in the hands of intelligence services at airports or other places abroad.” And, he said it bothered him to “think what would have happened if the FBI had used the photo of an ordinary person, and not a public figure able to draw attention to the matter.”

Following the January 19 meeting detailed in the cable, AFP quoted Miguel Angel Moratinos, who said Spain was in the process of trying to get the United States to publicize the mistake. It does not appear that any more investigation into what happened took place.

For Llamazares, the incident raised many questions, like whether “the FBI has a habit of keeping files on leftist politicians in the U.S., Europe, Latin America or elsewhere.” He didn’t buy the official story that the FBI “found his photo by chance on the internet.”

Llamazares has been outspoken on a couple revelations in WikiLeaks cables. In the case of the investigation into the death of cameraman Jose Couso in Iraq, he has accused the Spanish government of “submission” to the US instead of defending the nation’s own “countrymen.” Basing his arguments on WikiLeaks documents citing Couso, he thinks the government has been covering up the incident or violating the rights of victims instead of preventing the US from interfering in “the course of justice.” He also has called for more scrutiny over what happened with “the passage of the so-called 'CIA flights.'”

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