Conflict & Justice

Crusading Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón on Trial

Baltasar Garzón, the controversial Spanish judge known for indicting the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, is now on trial himself, for his handling of a corruption investigation.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Garzón sat in the dock Tuesday at the Spanish Supreme Court wearing his judge's gown. He's facing charges of abusing his powers and ordering illegal phone-tapping.

Demonstrators convened outside the court in support of Garzón. They say Garzón is being persecuted because he planned to investigate human rights crimes committed under the dictatorship of Spanish General Francisco Franco.

Giles Tremlett, Madrid correspondent for the British paper, The Guardian, has been following the trial. He says the proceedings might spell the end of Garzón's tenure as a Spanish magistrate.

Tremlett is author of a new book about the Spanish Civil War called Ghosts of Spain. He says Tuesday's trial is proof of how deep the scars of the Spanish Civil War run, and how hard it's been to heal the wounds.

This is the first of three separate cases against Garzón. Next week he'll stand trial for alleged criminal malfeasance for investigating cases of illegal detention and enforced disappearances committed during the Franco dictatorship.

Garzón investigated the cases despite Spain's controversial 1977 amnesty law for "political acts". Prosecutors say Garzón deliberately ignored the amnesty law. Garzón has countered the accusation, by saying disappearances are kidnappings, and it is valid to pursue them because they are ongoing cases.

If Garzón is found guilty, he'll be banned from working as a magistrate in Spain for up to 17 years.

The New York Times published an editorial, calling the case against Garzón "politically driven". Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International allege that the Garzón trial threatens the concept of accountability in Spain and beyond.

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