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Il giudice Garzon sotto accusa in Spagna

Charismatic judge who pursued Spain’s fascist assassins finds himself on trial

Dal Guardian del 25 aprila:
Powerful enemies are attempting to unseat the ‘superjudge’ who tried to bring the death squads of Franco’s dictatorship to book

Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon participat

The Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, who dared to investigate the atrocities of the Franco dictatorship. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

The crowd gathered outside Madrid’s national court was loud and angry. “The world has been turned upside down,” they cried. “The fascists are judging the judge!” Some carried photographs of long-dead relatives, killed by rightwing death squads in Spain‘s brutal civil war in the 1930s. Others bore placards bearing the name of the hero they wanted to save, the controversial “superjudge” Baltasar Garzón.
Pedro Romero de Castilla carried a picture of his grandfather, Wenceslao – a former stationmaster taken away from his home in the western city of Mérida and shot by a death squad at the service of Generalísimo Francisco Franco‘s rightwing military rebels 74 years ago. The family have never found his body.
Garzón, he explained, had dared to investigate the atrocities of 36 years of Franco’s dictatorship and now, as a result, he faces trial for allegedly abusing his powers. “My grandfather’s case is one that Garzón wanted to investigate,” he said. “He’s a brave and intelligent judge, but now the right are out to get him.”
Police tried to herd Romero and his fellow protesters away, but 400 of them marched to nearby Calle de Génova and brought traffic to a standstill. It was a taste of the anger being expressed daily across Spain, with tens of thousands of people due to march in the country last night.
Garzón still works at the national court, stepping out of his bomb-proof car every morning and climbing the courthouse steps to deal with cases involving terrorism, political corruption, international drug-trafficking and human rights cases. Soon, however, the hyperactive investigating magistrate who shot to global fame by ordering the 1998 arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London will have his cases taken away from him.
Just a hundred yards across a square, stern-faced judges at the supreme court plan to suspend Garzón next month. The temporary suspension will last while they decide whether he deliberately ran roughshod over Spain’s laws by opening an investigation into the deaths of 113,000 Spaniards executed by Franco’s men during and after the civil war. If they find him guilty – and there are signs that they intend to – his career will be over.
The irony of that will be lost on few. The only man to have been punished because of Franco’s crimes will be Judge Garzón himself. “If that happens, the reaction will be furious,” warns one of the demonstrators outside the National Court, who meet there every day at 8pm. “The assassins will have won.”
Spain’s most charismatic judge leaves few people cold. Many colleagues loathe him and envy his status. They see him as a capricious abuser of the law. “Judge Garzón has come to see himself as exceptional, losing sight of himself as just one more judge in the Spanish judicial system, bound by the laws,” said Jesús Zarzalejos, a law professor at Madrid’s Complutense University. Others see the bespectacled judge as a tireless and imaginative defender of justice.
“The other judges are critical of him because they would never dare do the things he has done,” said Carlos Jiménez Villarejo, formerly Spain’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor. “The reaction is corporativist and unacceptable,” complains another former public prosecutor, José María Mena. “If he was a tame, lazy judge, he wouldn’t have these sorts of problems.”
Garzón has wielded the mighty powers of a Spanish investigating magistrate in flamboyant fashion. He has brought down governments, closed newspapers, banned political parties, arrested dictators, laid low drugs cartels, issued instructions to detain Osama bin Laden and been the driving force behind a new global interpretation of human rights law. Thanks in good part to Garzón, countries such as Chile and Argentina have overthrown amnesty laws and locked up the violent thugs of their own dictatorial pasts. “The Pinochet case gave out a message that all that was possible,” said Joan Garcés, the lawyer who oversaw the prosecution case.
Little surprise, then, that Garzón is either hated or adored. While some want him dishonourably sacked, others campaign for him to win the Nobel peace prize. Others swing wildly from one extreme to another, depending on who he is investigating. Even former Socialist prime minister Felipe González, who was brought down by Garzón’s prosecution of a state-run dirty war against the Basque terror group Eta, now backs him. “I don’t have a very special relationship with this man,” he admitted. “But what they are doing is inexplicable and unjust.”
Supreme court magistrate Luciano Varela, the man who has ruled that Garzón must be tried, is openly leftwing but belongs to a generation that believes a post-Franco pledge not to delve into the past must be adhered to. “This artificially built case [against Franco] shows a basic lack of knowledge of the principles of law and of democratically approved laws such as the amnesty law of 1977,” he said.
Many Spaniards are amazed by the protagonists who have suddenly reappeared into mainstream debate. The supreme court is acting at the behest of the Falange — the minuscule descendant of the party that provided eager gunmen for Franco’s death squads — and of a shadowy far-right pressure group called Manos Limpias (Clean Hands).
On Friday, the Falange was barred from the next stage of the case, but between them the two groups – which public prosecutors refuse to back – represent only a few thousand people. “We are talking about a sectarian and partial judge who had intentionally, given his own political ideology, set himself up as the universal judge of rightwing dictatorships,” Clean Hands, which is officially a trade union, said last week.
Then there are the supreme court judges themselves. Luciano Varela made clear several years ago his hatred of judges like Garzón. “The one thing I find totally repugnant is a judge who likes to play at policeman,” he said. The supreme court president, Judge Juan Saavedra, is on the record as saying that he is “totally against” judges like Garzón. “Star judges are opportunists,” he said. Saavedra is one of the five judges who will now decide Garzón’s future. Another is Adolfo Prego de Oliver, patron of the rightwing Defence of the Spanish Nation group.
“The judiciary in Spain has changed since the Pinochet case,” explained Garcés. “A lot of rightwing judges were appointed to the supreme court by the Partido Popular (People’s party) government of José María Aznar in the eight years up to 2004.
” They include some elderly judges who once swore loyalty to Franco’s regime, he said.
PP backs the campaign against Garzón. The party was vocal in its criticism of the Franco case. “It is outlandish,” said Manuel Fraga, a former Francoist minister who is the party’s founding president. The party had also lashed out at Garzón for his recent investigation into a PP corruption scandal known as the Gürtel case. Party leader Mariano Rajoy has called the wave of pro-Garzón demonstrations “anti-democratic”.
Those demonstrations looked set to reach a new pitch with a march through Madrid yesterday. Oscar-winning film director Pedro Almodóvar and Javier Bardem, the Hollywood star, are among artists and intellectuals who have supported the judge.
The anger has spread far beyond Spain. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on the supreme court to throw out the case. “Garzón sought justice for victims of human rights abuses abroad and now he’s being punished for trying to do the same at home. The decision leaves Spain and Europe open to the charge of double standards,” said Lotte Leicht, EU advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of a criminal complaint against Judge Baltasar Garzón for investigating crimes under international law committed in the past, Spain should, irrespective of the date of their commission, bring perpetrators to justice,” said Amnesty’s senior director Widney Brown.
The New York Times published a fiercely supportive editorial, although some on the American right rub their hands at the threat to universal justice – which they fear may be used against US officials accused of torture in Iraq .
Spain’s so-called historical memory groups have already imitated Garzón’s prosecution of Pinochet by lodging a case asking for Francoist atrocities to be investigated by an Argentinian court, on the basis that international law permits other countries to prosecute crimes against humanity if Spain refuses to. Carlos Slepoy, a Madrid-based Argentinian lawyer, was in Buenos Aires to present the petition. “There are still people alive who were involved in the extreme repression of the first decade of Francoism, but crimes were still being committed up to 1977,” he explained. “If we manage to find people who were involved, we will demand their detention, extradition and trial – whatever country they are now in.”
The Argentinian court will rule next month on whether it accepts the case. That may depend on whether Spain’s supreme court decides to banish Garzón. “What is on trial here is a lot more than Garzón’s future,” said Joan Garcés. “This is a battle for the history and the soul of Spain itself.”


1988 Aged 32, becomes one of the youngest ever magistrates at Spain’s powerful national court. Investigates state’s dirty war by GAL death squads against Basque terror group Eta.
1989 Vows revenge on Eta after it murders prosecutor Carmen Tagle.
1990 Leads police operations against Colombian-related drugs clans.
1993 Elected as an independent MP on the Socialist party list, helping it win re-election.
1994 Resigns over Socialist corruption.
1996 Opens genocide investigations into Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and Argentinian military juntas.
1998 Former Socialist interior minister José Barrionuevo jailed over GAL case.
1998 Orders arrest of Pinochet in London.
1998 Shuts Basque newspaper, alleging it is an Eta front.
1999 UK frees Pinochet.
2001 Investigates Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi over Spanish TV companies.
2002 Suspends Batasuna, a pro-Eta separatist party, for three years.
2003 Issues international arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden.
2005 Argentinian navy captain Adolfo Scilingo jailed in Spain for mass murder of junta opponents.
2008 Opens, and is then forced to close, investigation into Francoist crimes against humanity during and after civil war.
2009 Investigates corruption in rightwing People’s party.
2010 To stand trial for allegedly abusing power over Francoist investigation.


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