[Apologies: I wrote this on Sunday but somehow neglected to post it until now. Since I wrote it, an association of victims of Franco in Spain has brought suit against Luciano Varela, the judge who is charging Garzón, and organizations of human rights activists in Argentina have filed another suit, charging Varela with precisely the offense he has accused Garzón of: "prevaricación", which in Spanish law means knowingly exceeding (abusing) one's authority.]
I've long admired Judge Baltasar Garzón. My alter ego, Baltasar Lotroyo, even took his name when he sprang into existence 5 years ago. I have on my desk a biography I bought, oh, probably in 2003 or '04 (Garzón: El hombre que veía amanecer, by Pilar Urbano. Plaza & Janés, 2000.) When he organized public round-tables with international jurists and other experts on human rights, at New York University, we attended (we were still living in New York City in 2005), and I was thrilled to run into him one night outside a supermarket and shake his hand -- he seemed pleased and surprised to be recognized.
I admire him the same way and for the same reasons I admire certain other courageous judges, professionals who are dedicated to the law and are willing to take professional and even physical risks to go after the powerful when they have done grievous wrong. There are many, fortunately (though they remain a minority in the profession). I'm thinking especially of Julio César Strassera, the Argentinian judge in the case against the military junta that had directed the "dirty war." I had the privilege of interviewing him when I was preparing my book on Argentina. As he made clear to me, and says again in this more recent interview, he had not sought this case, but it simply fell to him as the most experienced judge on deck when it came up. He was not a radical, had no known sympathy for the politics of the presumed leftists the military had been murdering and "disappearing," but he carried on, striving to do his duty in the face of threats against his life and with a public still cowed by the years of terror.
I'm also thinking of Juan Guzmán in Chile. And Carla Ponti, and many others.
Like most people outside of Spain, I first heard of Garzón when he ordered the arrest of General Augusto Pinochet for violations of human rights -- a bold action for a Spanish judge, because it was a first use of such powers in this way and because Pinochet had important allies, within and beyond Spain. And many judges would have been, and in fact were, too intimidated to prosecute powerful politicians. Garzón's initiative provided crucial support to courageous Chilean judges who had been stymied in attempts to bring Pinochet to trial for horrendous abuses, and encouraged other judges to prosecute human rights violators beyond their borders when local judges were unable or unwilling to do so. (See Universal jurisdiction - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
What is going on in Spain now in the trial of Garzón is a campaign by judges of the other kind, those who see themselves as the minions and executive servants of the powerful, to suffocate those jurists like Garzón who would dare use the law to unmask the corruption and crimes of their patrons. We shouldn't be surprised. We've known at least since Marx laid it out for us, 150 years and more ago, that the laws are made to protect those with power and property, and they consider judges to be there to protect them -- declarations of "equality before the law" and so forth notwithstanding.
Ridiculous and contorted as is the case against him, it looks like Garzón may lose this battle and his position on the court -- which would be a victory not only for the ideological heirs of Franco, but all those politicians (concentrated in the Partido Popular) who can't keep their hands out of the till. Spain's most famous judge (Garzón is surely the only Spanish judge most people outside the country have even heard of) will no doubt find dignified employment somewhere, maybe teaching, maybe in an international court, but Spanish justice will be deeply wounded. And Garzón's example will continued to inspire at least a few new jurists.