Cross-posted from Firedoglake
An appeal to the Spanish Supreme Court by National Court judge Baltasar Garzón was denied last month, and in May he must appear before the Supreme Court itself. The charges? That Garzón violated his jurisdictional authority by investigating mass murder that took place under the rule of fascist dictator Francisco Franco. In Spain, judges have investigatory and prosecutorial powers that judges do not have in the United States.
Judge Garzón is most famously known for his ordering the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998. Ultimately, the United Kingdom did not turn Pinochet over to Spain to be tried for crimes against humanity, and he was released on so-called medical grounds. Ultimately, Pinochet was indicted in Chile for tax fraud and forgery and died under suspended house arrest.
The Spanish judge, who sought Pinochet under international legal principles of universal jurisdiction, also “filed charges of genocide against Argentine military officers on the disappearance of Spanish citizens during Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship.” In the United States, in 2009, Judge Garzón was in the news for his attempt to indict six Bush-era officials for creating the legal framework for torture, namely John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, Douglas Feith, and William Haynes, II.
But Garzón’s current problems date back to a case from last year, when the right-wing group, Manos Limpias (“Clean Hands”) brought charges against him. They contended that Garzón was violating the terms of a 1975 amnesty law passed after Franco died. But many human rights groups contest the legality of that law, and Garzón himself has declared that it did not — indeed, could not — cover crimes against humanity, which are subject to prosecution under universal jurisdiction.
Investigating Mass Murder and Torture
According to an article in Times Online:
The case centres on an investigation into the disappearance of at least 100,000 people during the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship. Judge Garzón issued an unprecedented order [in 2008] to exhume from 25 mass graves the bodies of people who were shot by firing squad or murdered on the orders of kangaroo courts.
The judge began the controversial legal action last year at the request of families of the missing. He alleged that the killings of thousands of civilians were carried out systematically by Franco and his political allies. He accused the dictator, 44 army officers and members of the Falange fascist party of crimes against humanity.
Spain’s conservative Popular Party and the Roman Catholic Church were dismayed by Garzón’s actions. Buy the judge did not act purely on his own initiative. According to the UK Guardian, in a story at the time:
The judge’s investigation stems from around 1,200 petitions from families and associations asking for information on those who “disappeared” between July 1936 and November 1975, when Franco’s soldiers often dispatched dissidents during a paseo, a “stroll” that ended with a bullet in the head and an unmarked grave.
The Spanish magistrate also made no friends when he investigated corruption within the Popular Party, and some in Spain see this as payback. The amnesty case is just one of three court cases filed against Garzón. Just the other day, he was in court for supposedly taking a bribe.
Garzón also got heat from conservatives in the United States over his pursuit of the Bush Administration “Six”. Those charges, from last March, ultimately went nowhere. Even more, conservatives pushed through a bill in the Spanish parliament that forbid universal jurisdiction prosecutions, unless they involved Spanish citizens. But at the end of January 2010, Judge Garzón announced he would “begin an inquiry into the suspected torture and ill-treatment of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay… focused on Spanish citizen and ex-Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Abderraman Hamed,” the so-called “Spanish Taliban” (H/T various commenters at FDL). Formal criminal investigations into the same six Bush Administration figures have commenced.
As Scott Horton described it last February:
In its decision, the Spanish court concluded that the American Justice Department was not involved in any credible effort to investigate or prosecute torture cases connected with Guantánamo. It also announced that the Justice Department had defaulted in response to letters rogatory seeking clarification of issues surrounding the incidents of torture in which the Justice Department itself was directly involved. (So much for Eric Holder’s pledge of cooperation with European counterterrorism investigators.)
While the Obama administration has not commented on Garzón’s latest troubles, former Bush/Rumsfeld speech writer, and new Washington Post columnist, Marc Thiessen can barely contain his glee. “Poetic Justice,” Thiessen crowed, when the Supreme Court announced a few weeks back it would go ahead with the charges against Garzón. To the uber-conservative Thiessen, who thinks waterboarding is just fine, Baltasar Garzón is a “rogue” judge, and his legal troubles are “Good news on the international law front.” The fact that Garzón has prosecuted both Basque and Al Qaeda terrorists, that he has investigated corruption in both conservative and socialist parties, means nothing to a paid ideologue like Thiessen.
Support Grows for Spanish Judge
But not everyone feels this way. The New York Times ran an editorial last week castigating the Spanish Supreme Court’s decision — “the politically driven case… should have been thrown out of court — and the judge has the support of “government ministers, eminent judges and Pedro Almodóvar, the Oscar-winning film director.” Protesters have taken to the streets in Garzón’s support, and there have been trade union rallies.
In Argentina, Garzon supporters are taking up his crusade to get justice for the crimes of Fascist Spain, helping the man who once tried to help their country come to terms with the deaths and disappearances of the military regime that once ruled that country. According to an April 14 AP story at the Huffington Post, Argentine human rights groups will ask for their own “local judicial probe of murders and disappearances as well as alleged genocide committed during Spain’s Civil War and Gen. Francisco Franco’s long dictatorship,” relying on complaints by relatives of Spanish and Argentine victims of the 1936-1939 war, who apparently already filed their cases in Argentina’s federal court.
Progressives in the United States owe a great debt of gratitude to Judge Garzón, for standing up for what is right — accountability for torture and other war crimes, the principles of international law and universal jurisdiction — and obviously he has put his life and career on the line for these principles. We cannot be indifferent to his fate.
Update: It should be noted that Manos Limpias was joined in its complaint against Judge Garzón by the Freedom and Identity association and the ultra-right Spanish Falange. The Falange, or Spanish Fascist Party, was the only party allowed to exist in Spain during the years of Franco’s rule.