January 31, 2012 4:27 pm

Garzón defends probe of Franco-era cases

Baltasar Garzón, the prominent Spanish judge accused of criminal wrongdoing for investigating the disappearances of people presumed killed by Francisco Franco’s forces, said on Tuesday he had been examining apparent crimes against humanity that would not be covered by the country’s amnesty law.

The case accuses Mr Garzón of defying the 1977 post-Franco amnesty law by proceeding with the investigations.

Giving evidence in the Supreme Court under a dramatic fresco showing the law victorious over thieves and murderers, Mr Garzón said that from 2006 to 2008 he had dealt with complaints of extrajudicial killings, detentions and torture, suggesting victims had been systematically eliminated according to a preordained plan.

“Thousands and thousands of them remain unaccounted for to the present day,” he told the seven judges in response to questions from his defence lawyer. He added that there were some 114,000 “disappeared” people not directly involved in the fighting during the 1936-39 civil war.

On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Madrid to support the judge and condemn his trial, and a few protesters returned to the street outside the court on Tuesday. “We want justice, we have a memory,” they chanted. One placard read: “Spain back to front: it’s the corrupt ones and the fascists making the judge face trial.”

Mr Garzón is accused by some of his detractors, especially Spanish rightwingers, of being a publicity seeker and of seeking to dredge up a painful past that should have been buried by the 1977 amnesty.

Over the past decade, descendants of the Republican victims of Franco’s dictatorship have sought to discover what happened to their relatives, often by digging up bodies from mass graves scattered across the Spanish countryside. They were further encouraged by the passing in 2007 of the “Historical Memory Law” by the then Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

International human rights groups have publicly supported Mr Garzón and questioned the motives behind three separate criminal accusations he faces.

Hugo Relva of Amnesty International described the charge against the judge for defying the amnesty law “scandalous and unacceptable”. Because of a peculiarity of the Spanish justice system, the case was brought to trial at the instigation of two small rightwing groups despite the opposition of the public prosecutor.

In another case, Mr Garzón is accused of illegally ordering secret recordings of conversations between defence lawyers and suspected members of a corruption ring.

In the third, he is accused of dropping legal proceedings against senior executives of Santander, the bank, in exchange for financial sponsorship for a series of lectures he gave in New York. His lawyer says he is innocent of all the charges in all three cases.

Mr Garzón – who in the past irritated the Spanish left by investigating the state’s “dirty war” against the militant Basque separatist group Eta – denied in the Supreme Court on Tuesday that he was politically motivated.

“I did what I thought I had to do, according to existing national and international norms,” he said. “Judges are not about ideology. Here there were hundreds of thousands of victims, thousands of victims whose rights had not been looked after.”

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