No Comment — February 9, 2012, 4:30 pm

Franco is still dead…

… but his spirit seems to have inspired a courtroom drama in Madrid the past few weeks. Baltasar Garzón—the crusading investigative judge who once sought the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, probed crimes against humanity in Central America, exposed massive corruption in public-works projects in Spain, and tried to open the lid on the mass killings of the Franco era—was himself placed in the dock, accused of misuse of his judicial powers. In the end little was left to chance in the rush to destroy him, an effort that brought into alignment the many powerful figures he had offended: the now-governing conservative Partido Popular, which was richly embarrassed by the corruption disclosures of the Garzón-led Gürtel investigation; the United States government, which was angered by his pursuit of a torture investigation focusing on Guantánamo and was openly working for his removal; the heirs of the Franco era, who were whipped into a state of hysteria about the prospect of an investigation into the mass murders of that era.

Even Spain’s leftists and liberals seemed uneasy with the quixotic and sometimes politically tin-eared jurist. Only a ragtag group of human-rights advocates and bar associations from around the Hispanic world stood with Garzón, remembering how he had stood with them against the atrocity crimes of dictatorships, which the polite and the powerful preferred simply to ignore. Now Garzón stands convicted of abuse of power, in comically politicized proceedings that he is not permitted to appeal.

The Guardian reports:

Garzón’s career effectively came to a dramatic end on Thursday as he began an 11-year suspension for illegally wiretapping conversations between remand prisoners and their lawyers in a corruption case involving the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy’s People’s party (PP).

Human-rights advocates, generally eager to press for the procedural rights of the accused in criminal cases, acknowledge that Garzón seems to have exceeded his authority, even as they express puzzlement about how judicially reviewed and approved surveillance can be a grave offense. (The thrust of human-rights protection is, of course, aimed at insuring that it is judicially reviewed.) Count that a special flourish of the Spanish legal system, enforced with special vehemence in order to shield compromised leaders of Spain’s governing party. The irony of this action lies in the still more bizarre fact that the political figures whose corruption Garzón convincingly exposed remain at liberty, while the furor of Spain’s criminal-justice system was turned against their accuser.

Reed Brody, who observed the proceedings for Human Rights Watch, remarked, “This is disappointing but not surprising because the knives were out for him. The accumulation of criminal charges against him suggests a vendetta for his handling of cases involving vested interests, and convicting him for wiretaps was certainly a more elegant way to get rid of him than convicting him for investigating atrocities.”

Although Spanish procedure denies Garzón the right to appeal the decision, his attorneys have promised to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

There is little doubt that Garzón’s accusers have caused him some measure of embarrassment. But in the eyes of many around the world, the proceedings against him provide compelling evidence that the legacy of Generalísimo Francisco Franco is alive in Spain today.

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