Spain: Prosecuting a judge who championed victims

Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge who pursued criminals from other countries, will be tried this summer for investigating the abuses of the Franco era in contravention of a 1977 amnesty law.

Spain should be ashamed by the prosecution—the persecution, really—of Baltasar Garzón, said Madrid’s El País in an editorial. The 54-year-old magistrate, known for his dogged pursuit of torturers and criminals around the world, now finds himself in the dock—suspended from his job at the National Court and due to be tried in the Supreme Court this summer. His offense? Attempting to investigate atrocities carried out during the brutal dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, in contravention of a 1977 amnesty law. If found guilty, Garzón could be barred for 20 years, which would effectively end his career and dash forever the hopes of the relatives of Franco’s missing victims.

It’s about time Garzón got his “comeuppance,” said The Wall Street Journal Europe. His “shtick” is wearing thin. Most famous for trying to collar Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet while on a visit to Britain, this “hyperactive” judge has since gone after everyone from Osama bin Laden to Argentine military officers and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Last year he even launched proceedings against former officials of the Bush administration, investigating them for so-called war crimes. Garzón’s attempts to exploit the principle of “universal jurisdiction”—claiming that he had the power as a judge to indict individuals from other states if they were deemed to have committed crimes against humanity—have usually failed, seldom adding up to more than “a lot of ruined travel plans.” But they have proved “a recipe for legal anarchy and international discord.” The charges against him are that he overreached his jurisdiction and used the courts as “a political platform for his own glory.” Based on his record, that sounds about right.

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