Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Baltasar Garzon Redux

Spain’s eclectic judge, Baltasar Garzon (see my April 10, 2009 blog), is back in the news. The once high-flying, internationally revered Spanish jurist is grounded. This time, he’s on the receiving end of Spanish justice as he risks being defrocked as a judge.

He advanced the cause of “universal jurisdiction” in issuing arrest warrants for General Augusto Pinochet and others. His view of universal jurisdiction is that crimes against humanity, such as torture and genocide, can be pursued and prosecuted in any court that will assert jurisdiction.

He opened an investigation in 2008 covering the up to 114,000 missing victims during the Spanish Civil War and Francisco Franco’s 36 year regime.

The Spanish Civil war was brutal, with both sides committing war crimes, as one might suspect when the war was fought by proxies on behalf of Hitler and Stalin.

Spain is still highly divided over the legacy of Franco.

The Spanish Parliament enacted a general amnesty in 1977 for crimes of the Franco Government, two years after the dictator died.

Garzon, who has been quick to indict international figures, has been indicted on three counts for abuse of power. He is accused of knowingly acting beyond his jurisdiction.

He argued the amnesty did not cover crimes against humanity.

Spain’s Supreme Court voted 5:0 to allow the prosecution to proceed.

The result is that he was suspended from office on May 10, 2010, pending the investigation. If found guilty, he can be suspended from the judgeship for 10-20 years.

If he were an American judge, he would be in deep trouble for taking $300,000 in compensation from a Spanish bank for a series of lectures at NYU in the United States while a case was pending in his court against the president of the bank. He had quickly issued a not guilty verdict against the president. He saw no conflict of interest.

He also made enemies by approving the wiretapping of conversations between lawyers and prisoners in a corruption case involving politicians of the opposition party.
This breach of attorney client confidentiality outraged attorneys of all political persuasion.

Eventhough he is from the Spanish left, elements of the left and right have united in wanting him out.

Right now, he's out of Spain. He has accepted a 7 month appointment at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Whether or not he can navigate the thicket of international politics, and glacial pace of justice, at The Hague will be an interesting spectator sport.

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