The Garzon Trial: Petty Vengeance


By Robert Bosschart
Radio Netherlands

To see judge Baltasar Garzon standing trial before Spain’s Supreme Court is like watching a man made to take a dose of his own medicine. But this is a particularly bitter pill, force fed by political opponents.

Madrid — Garzon is an internationally renowned judge, the man who scored an incredible triumph for human rights in the 1998 detention, in London, of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

He has also taken on other apparent untouchables: the torturers of the Argentine military Junta and, years before that, police in Spain itself, who were accused of abuse during the country’s “dirty war” against Basque terrorists and were dismantled much too late under the new democracy. That failure was paid for heavily by the socialist government of the 1990s; and having uncovered it then, it will cost Garzón dearly now.

Higher still, will be the price he will have to pay for his latest attempts to administer justice in Spain. Garzón has sought to uncover a vast corruption ring (the so-called Gürtel case) within a Conservative party that embezzled millions during its previous reign and has just returned to power.

Finally, he has tried to bring justice to the families of victims of the Spanish Civil War. In 2008, Garzón began investigating war crimes allegedly committed by General Franco loyalists. More than 123,000 deaths and disappearances from that era have never been officially recognised as the murders they really were.

Breaking rank

Now Garzón stands accused of knowingly overstepping his limits as an investigating judge. When the accusation was first made by a right wing group that has the cheek to call itself “Clean Hands,” it was deemed such nonsense that it would never have stood up in court. But the magistrate who now happens to be judging the case told “Clean Hands” lawyers how to rewrite their charges so they would stick.

This still cannot explain or justify why a judiciary that considers itself to have the authority to detain Pinochet for his crimes, and that today still has similar cases pending (such as the prosecution of George Bush over Guantánamo, or an accusation against Chinese leader Hu Jintao for alleged crimes in Tibet), will not allow a judge to take a look at Franco’s slaughters at home.

Supreme Court magistrates are perfectly aware that condemning Garzón for looking into the Civil War will go down horribly with (international) public opinion. So they have shuffled the papers in such a way as to ensure that Garzón is first put on trial for overstepping his authority in the corruption case. Their aim, without a shadow of doubt, is to make sure that Garzón, now “on loan” to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, will never be able to return to the task of meting out justice in Spain. His bad example could, after all, catch on.

Nesting dolls

The crusade of Supreme Court magistrates against Garzón is like a set of Russian dolls, one inside the other. It is a petty vengeance to hide a misery cloaking a disaster.

At first sight, we see the personal revenge of right-wing and left-wing magistrates in happy company, getting even with a judge who not only stood out too much, but had the bad habit of molesting the powers that be on both sides of the political spectrum.

But this petty revenge hides a widespread misery: the ruling classes of Spanish society are still unable, more than 70 years after the Civil War and almost four decades since Franco’s death, to come to terms with the historical truth of what became the dictator’s massive killing ground.

And that misery cloaks another disaster: that the Spanish judiciary is appointed through a strict quota system that divides up the slots among the political parties. In short, top judges are appointees of top party hacks. When the system was set up, the parties promised to nominate judges based on merit. A generation later, the reality is that the parties have always appointed loyal friends.

If party hacks were sometimes unable to push through the appointment of allies, they had no qualms in blocking the court’s work by withholding the required appointments. The highest court of Spain, the Constitutional Tribunal, has been held hostage to such unlawful party behaviour for more than four years now. But the conservatives who were swept into power in November have promised to “unblock” the court by naming the judges that are now lacking.

The ideal of impartiality as the highest aim for justice is blowing in the Spanish wind. And it seems that Judge Garzon will be left hanging.


Source: Radio Netherlands

UPDATE Feb 9, 2012: Magistrate Baltasar Garzón Sentenced to 11 Years of Disbarment by Partisan Spanish Court

Also read:
Argentina Invokes Universal Jurisdiction for Crimes Against Humanity
Honoring Baltasar Garzón

2 comments on “The Garzon Trial: Petty Vengeance

  1. Cindi Burkey on said:

    Great piece, I quoted you on my website.

    If I had to guess, it’s about Bush. But that’s just me.

  2. Dady CheryDady Chery on said:

    Agreed. A lot of his trouble started when he tried to prosecute Bush. Argentina recently picked up the torch on the old crimes. Let us wait and see if they’ll get around to more recent ones.

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