Spanish Judge On Trial Again, For Franco-era Probe

Published January 24, 2012 10:18AM (EST)

MADRID (AP) — The Spanish judge who became an international human rights hero by indicting Augusto Pinochet went on trial Tuesday for probing rightwing atrocities that were committed during and after the civil war that brought Gen. Francisco Franco to power and later covered by an amnesty.

It is the second trial in as many weeks for Baltasar Garzon, although the charges are essentially the same: that he knowingly exceeded the bounds of his authority. Last week he stood trial for ordering jailhouse wiretaps in a corruption investigation.

In this case he has been indicted for investigating the death or disappearance of more than 100,000 civilians at the hands of Franco supporters during and after the 1936-39 war. Such crimes were covered by an amnesty passed in 1977 as Spain moved to restore democracy after Franco's death in 1975.

But Garzon, who is now 56, investigated anyway. His basic argument is that crimes involving missing persons cannot be covered by amnesty and that the killings and disappearances amounted to a crime against humanity by the Franco regime and such atrocities have no statute of limitations.

About 100 pro-Garzon demonstrators rallied outside the Supreme Court before the trial started, chanting "Garzon, our friend, the people are with you."

Tuesday's session was to be taken up by procedural motions to be filed by Garzon's lawyer. The judge himself is scheduled to testify next week.

If found guilty, Garzon — who was already suspended from his job at the National Court in 2010 — can be removed from the bench for up to 20 years. That would effectively end his career.

The verdict in the first trial could come during this one. In that case, Garzon faces up to 17 years off the bench.

For many in Spain, the trials — and a third case in which Garzon is being probed for his dealings with a big Spanish bank — amount to a witch hunt aimed at punishing Garzon for his status as judicial celebrity thanks to his cross-border justice cases and for trying to reopen the old wounds of the wartime era.

By Salon Staff

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