The Trials of Baltasar Garzón

Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón continues to sit on the opposite side of the bench inside  Spain’s supreme court. Garzón, lauded globally as a defender of human rights, is currently defending himself in his second trial where he is accused of breaking an amnesty law passed in 1977, two years after dictator Francisco Franco’s death, that prevents any probe into Franco-era crimes via a general pardon.

Baltasar Garzón. Photographer unknown.

Judge Garzón launched a probe in 2008 into the disappearances of over 100,000 persons while Franco was in power. Family members of the victims have spent years, some even decades, trying to discover where their loved ones were buried.

From The Telegraph UK:

The first witness, Maria Martin, recalled how in 1936 when she was just six, her mother was one of three women and 27 men shot dead and their corpses dumped into a mass grave on the side of a road.

Supported by a Zimmer-frame and speaking in a voice cracked with emotion, the 81-year-old said her family had fought to recover the remains of her mother for a proper burial ever since.

“Until the day he died in 1977 my father wrote to the local authorities to try to recover the body. They told him: ‘Go away, leave us in peace or we will do to you what we did to her’,” she told the Supreme Court.

Garzón first appeared in court last week to defend himself from allegations that he’d overstepped his jurisdiction when he authorized police to wiretap conversations between lawyers and their clients in what’s known as the Gürtel case. The case involves charges of corruption against members of the Partido Popular, which currently holds power in Spain.

A date for the third case, which centers around allegations that Garzón dropped an investigation against the president of Banco Santander in exchange for payments for a course sponsored by the bank at New York University, has not been set yet.

El Pais has a detailed analysis of each case.

Garzón became famous worldwide in 1998 when he ordered the arrest of Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet for crimes against humanity. Pinochet was extradited from London to Santiago, Chile where he lived under house arrest during his trial. The arrest led to “the Garzón effect” throughout Latin America.

That was just the first in a number of high-profile cases he led including:

  • the conviction of former Interior Minister José Barrionuevo Peña for leading state-terrorist group Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL)
  • many cases against members of Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA)
  • an investigation into whether the Bush Six ( Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Douglas Feith, William Haynes II, Jay Bybee, and David Addington) violated international law by justifying the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay

Garzón risks losing his role as Investigative Magistrate for up to 20 years if he is convicted in any of the trials.

Below is a lengthy interview Garzón gave to Democracy Now:

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