A Chilling Verdict in Spain
Published: February 10, 2012
The enemies of Judge Baltasar Garzón have finally gotten their way. Spain’s Supreme Court this week found the judge guilty of misapplying the country’s wiretap law and suspended him from the courts for 11 years.
Judge Garzón has played an important role in Spain’s transition to democracy, as a scourge of corrupt politicians left and right and a powerful champion of international human rights law. His efforts to prosecute the former Chilean dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and investigate the horrors of the Spanish Civil War era, though unsuccessful, advanced the principle that there can be neither amnesty nor impunity for crimes against humanity.
Thursday’s ruling stemmed from prison wiretaps of conversations between lawyers and their clients that the judge ordered in a 2008 case involving bribes allegedly paid to local officials of the now-ruling Popular Party. Judge Garzón was not alone in ordering those wiretaps, but he alone was prosecuted, even while the public prosecutor argued that there were no grounds for a criminal proceeding. Convicting a jurist over a court ruling is an appalling attack on judicial independence. Two other cases against him are pending — one involving his inquiry into mass killings during the civil war and the Franco dictatorship, and another concerning allegations of conflict of interest in a tax fraud case.
Judge Garzón is far from perfect, but the decision by the Spanish Supreme Court to remove him from the bench is enormously damaging to the prospects of fair and impartial justice. What investigating magistrate would not now hesitate before pursuing politically sensitive cases? Will the Franco-era crimes that scarredSpainfor two generations remain forever uninvestigated?
Judge Garzón cannot appeal in the Spanish court system. But he can challenge this decision inSpain’sConstitutional Courtand the European Court of Human Rights inStrasbourg. We hope he does. As this week’s miscarriage of justice plainly demonstrates,Spainstill needs his help in keeping its judiciary fearless and independent.
A version of this editorial appeared in print on February 11, 2012, on page A20 of the New Yorkedition with the headline: A Chilling Verdict inSpain.