For years, conservatives in Spain bristled as their most famous magistrate, Baltasar Garzon, pushed the boundaries of international law against former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet and human rights abusers in other countries, but they were powerless to stop him. When Spain's star judge turned his sights on Spanish Civil War atrocities, however, they joined forces with his many personal enemies and went after him, accusing him of opening old wounds and violating the country's 1977 amnesty law. Last week, a Supreme Court judge decided to bring the case to trial, and the General Council of the Judiciary voted in an emergency session to suspend Garzon.
From the beginning, the case against Garzon has seemed to be motivated by political and personal vendettas, and the timing of these decisions is no exception. Early in the week, Garzon had asked Spanish authorities for a seven-month leave to work as a consultant to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, presumably as a face-saving measure to avoid the humiliation of a suspension. But on Wednesday, an investigating magistrate for the Supreme Court (and one of Garzon's detractors) suddenly ordered Garzon to face trial for proceeding without jurisdiction on the Spanish Civil War cases, and the suspension followed on Friday. Such haste in a case that had been moving normally through the system since February has the whiff of malice; the decision was made even though the Spanish attorney general's office still had questions about the case. If convicted, the 54-year-old Garzon would not be jailed, but he could be removed from the bench for up to 20 years. For all practical purposes, it would mean the end of his career in Spain.