The absurd possibility has lingered for some time: Baltazar Garzon, Spain’s renowned magistrate, could be virtually disbarred, and blocked from carrying out his independent investigations of the very class of people who are most liable to his scrutiny. But now the absurd becomes more menacing.
Spanish right-wing organizations — inheritors and protectors of the memory of Generalissimo Francisco Franco — charge Garzon with overstepping his authority by daring to investigate mass graves still unearthed more than 70 years after the Spanish Civil War. Garzon’s opponents say that Spanish law issues a blanket amnesty for any crimes that might have taken place during the Spanish Civil War or anytime during Franco’s rule — he died in 1975.
After all these years, the Civil War remains a present memory in Spain. Franco, aided by Nazi Germany and Italian Fascism, seized power in 1936 from the democratically elected Spanish Republic. The dwindling number of Republican survivors have urged Garzon to continue to search for hidden graves — and to identify those responsible for an estimated 100,000 extrajudicial deaths–assassinations. Right-wing members of the Spanish judiciary appear willing to entertain the outrageous charge against Garzon–that he has “perverted the course of history.”
That is far from the truth, and it would seem implausible that Spain’s highest court would take the charge seriously. But there are other cases, even close to home, in which a politicized judiciary has taken unconscionable decisions.
Over the years Garzon has ranged far beyond Spain. He successfully pursued Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet when the old general thought he could hide in Britain behind his long-time defender, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
He has investigated or considered indictments against the likes of Silvo Berlusconi, Osama bin Laden, Henry Kissinger and George Bush. He charged members of the Argentine military with genocide connected with their role in the disappearance of Spaniards, among thousands of people during Argentina’s Dirty War. He has pursued and prosecuted members of the Basque separatist organization, ETA; indicted Guantanamo detainees; and considered filing charges against members of the Bush administration for having justified torture.
The larger context in Spain involves larger attempts to recast history by those who consider Franco their savior from rampant Communism, from those that would downplay the brutal Franco dictatorship. History belongs to the victors, according the old saying. But Garzon must be victorious, for his job has been simply to dig up the truth and tell the story as it is.