Spain’s judicial oversight body suspended Judge Baltasar Garzón as he prepares to stand trial on charges of disregarding the amnesty law shielding crimes of the Franco era from investigation. The Los Angeles Times offers a perfectly balanced assessment of the situation:
For years, conservatives in Spain bristled as their most famous magistrate, Baltasar Garzon, pushed the boundaries of international law against former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet and human rights abusers in other countries, but they were powerless to stop him. When Spain’s star judge turned his sights on Spanish Civil War atrocities, however, they joined forces with his many personal enemies and went after him, accusing him of opening old wounds and violating the country’s 1977 amnesty law. Last week, a Supreme Court judge decided to bring the case to trial, and the General Council of the Judiciary voted in an emergency session to suspend Garzon.
From the beginning, the case against Garzon has seemed to be motivated by political and personal vendettas, and the timing of these decisions is no exception. Early in the week, Garzon had asked Spanish authorities for a seven-month leave to work as a consultant to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, presumably as a face-saving measure to avoid the humiliation of a suspension. But on Wednesday, an investigating magistrate for the Supreme Court (and one of Garzon’s detractors) suddenly ordered Garzon to face trial for proceeding without jurisdiction on the Spanish Civil War cases, and the suspension followed on Friday. Such haste in a case that had been moving normally through the system since February has the whiff of malice; the decision was made even though the Spanish attorney general’s office still had questions about the case.
The vehemence with which Garzon’s inquiry was rejected is not surprising given the bloody history of the period, yet the legal action against Garzon is; it’s one thing for his superiors to disagree with his judgment in bringing the case or to determine that he is overreaching, but it is quite another to charge him with breaking the law for doing so. Whatever happens in the case against Garzon, it seems that Spain is going to have to probe that past and provide the families with answers. The political divisions that marked that dark chapter of Spanish history still seem to be in play.
The ironies of this case are enormous. Garzón is accused of disregarding his duties as a judge by investigating matters that for purely political reasons cannot be investigated. A judicial oversight body moves against him, showing at every turn a disdain for proper procedure and a desire to manipulate the process for political purposes. In the end, it is not Garzón but rather the judicial oversight body that emerges with its reputation in a tatters. Moreover, the entire affair serves to put the spotlight just where it belongs. The assumption that the horrors of Spain’s fascist past must remain forever covered up serves the interest of some political figures with a compromised past. But it is radically false and a grave contravention of the most fundamental precepts of justice. The truth must ultimately be known, and Garzón deserves credit for pressing the issue.