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Spanish judge indicted for probe

He investigated Civil War crimes

By Daniel Woolls
Associated Press / April 8, 2010

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MADRID — The Spanish judge who became an international hero by going after Augusto Pinochet and Osama bin Laden was indicted yesterday for investigating what is arguably the nation’s biggest, unresolved case: atrocities committed during and after its Civil War.

Baltasar Garzon was charged with knowingly acting without jurisdiction by launching an investigation in 2008 of tens of thousands of wartime executions and disappearances of civilians by forces loyal to General Francisco Franco, even though the crimes were covered by a 1977 amnesty.

Garzon does not face jail time, but if convicted he could be removed from the bench for 10 to 20 years. A conviction would effectively end Garzon’s career as a judge, his lawyer, Gonzalo Martinez-Fresneda, has said.

The indictment by Luciano Varela, an investigating magistrate at the Supreme Court, marks a devastating fall from grace for one of Spain’s most prominent and divisive public figures and a man well known overseas for his cross-border justice cases.

Garzon, 54, is a hero to leftists and international human rights groups like Amnesty International, but he is a headline-loving egotist with a grudge against the right in the eyes of Spanish conservatives. He has prosecuted people ranging from Islamic extremists to Basque separatists to Argentine “dirty war’’ suspects, and has many political enemies.

Garzon will probably be suspended from his post at the National Court within days, and a trial could start as early as June, Martinez-Fresneda, said yesterday.

Garzon made no immediate public comment, but supporters were devastated.

Emilio Silva, head of an association that helps Spaniards find the bodies of loved ones missing since the 1936-39 war, said Garzon was an exception in a country where no government ever tried to offer justice to such descendants, even as bodies keep turning up in mass graves.

“And when a judge investigates the crime, they put him on trial. It is almost humiliating,’’ Silva said.

Over the past decade Garzon has gained fame worldwide as the most prominent symbol of Spain’s doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which holds that heinous crimes can be tried in this country even if they are alleged to have been committed elsewhere and have no link to Spain.

In summer 2008, Garzon turned his sights on the murkiest chapter of Spain’s own past.

He argued that Franco and his cohorts engaged in crimes against humanity; Garzon cited a systematic campaign by Franco to eliminate opponents.

Garzon reluctantly dropped the investigation in a matter of months after accepting that he lacked jurisdiction, and transferred it to lower courts.

Varela, who has been investigating Garzon since 2009, argued yesterday in a 14-page ruling that, in starting the inquiry, Garzon “was aware of his lack of jurisdiction’’ because of the amnesty decreed by Parliament in 1977 for civil war-era crimes.