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2011-05-12

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón on Holding Torturers Accountable, Why He Opposes the Killing of Osama bin Laden, and His Threatened Ouster from the Bench

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Citing the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón has used the Spanish courts to investigate cases of torture, war crimes and other offenses around the world. In 1998, he ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a move that led to Pinochet’s arrest and detention in Britain. In 2003, Garzón indicted Osama bin Laden and dozens of other members of al-Qaeda. Garzón later attempted to indict six high-ranking members of the Bush administration for their role in authorizing torture at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay and overseas, before the case was eventually dropped under U.S. pressure. While Garzón has long been one of the world’s most feared judges, he is now facing his own legal battle. Last year he was indicted for exceeding his authority for launching an investigation into the disappearance of more than 100,000 civilians at the hands of supporters of Gen. Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Garzón was suspended as a judge in May 2010 and is facing three separate trials. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined now by the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, perhaps one of the world’s most famous judges. Citing the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, Garzón has used the Spanish courts to investigate cases of torture, war crimes and other offenses around the world.

In 1998, he ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a move that had led to Pinochet’s arrest and detention in Britain for 18 months.

In 2003, Garzón indicted Osama bin Laden and dozens of other members of al-Qaeda. The indictment led to Europe’s biggest trial of alleged al-Qaeda operatives. Eighteen were eventually found guilty.

Garzón also led the case against Argentine ex-naval officer Adolfo Scilingo for crimes committed during Argentina’s Dirty War. Scilingo is now serving a 640-year sentence.

Garzón attempted to indict six high-ranking members of the Bush administration, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for their role in authorizing torture at Guantánamo and overseas. The case was eventually dropped. We now know, thanks to WikiLeaks, that the Bush administration privately pressured the Spanish government to drop the prosecution.

AMY GOODMAN: While Judge Garzón has long been one of the world’s most feared judges, he is now facing his own legal battle. Thirteen months ago, he was indicted for exceeding his authority for launching an investigation into the disappearance of more than 100,000 Spanish civilians at the hands of supporters of General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Garzón was suspended as a judge in May 2010 and is facing three separate trials.

The attack on Garzón has been widely criticized by human rights defenders. Lotte Leicht of Human Rights Watch said, quote, "Garzón sought justice for victims of human rights abuses abroad and now he’s being punished for trying to do the same at home. The decision leaves Spain and Europe open to the charge of double standard."

Judge Baltasar Garzón is here in New York this week to receive the first Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives/Puffin Foundation Award for Human Rights Activism. He flew in from Spain last night, joins us in the studio today.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: Good Morning. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: And thank you to Tony Geist for translating.

Judge Garzón, let’s start with the latest news: the assassination of Osama bin Laden. You have condemned this. Why?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] Any person who leads a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda is obviously a target. Under the rule of law, justice should be sought by legal means. According to the information we have, he could well have been arrested and brought to trial for his crimes.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet he was assassinated. Talk about the example you believe this sets.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] According to international law, the murder or the assassination of bin Laden was not the appropriate solution. Clearly, from the information we have, it’s an undefined situation, given the state of conflict between the United States and al-Qaeda.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I wanted to ask you about the case, particular case, that you have been now indicted for, specifically overreaching your authority, supposedly, in terms of the investigation into the civilian deaths under the Franco regime. You prosecuted similar cases, where amnesties had been declared, in Argentina and Chile, and your government had no problem with that. But now, when you challenge the amnesty that was supposedly granted to the perpetrators of the Franco atrocities, suddenly the government has problems with your methods?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: Yeah. [translated] This is the paradox and the irony of a situation in which Spain has been a pioneer in the application of universal jurisdiction. Yet, when it actually comes to investigating the case and the facts of the case in Spain, the country denies access to the facts and puts the judge himself on trial. It is the obligation of a judge to investigate the cases and to search for truth, justice and reparation for the victims of these crimes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the particular powers of a judge in Spain that may differ from what we here in the United States understand as a judge’s power, that the judges in Spain have both a sort of prosecutorial as well as a judgment aspect to their responsibilities, could you explain that?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: Yes. [translated] Judges in Spain are a combination of prosecutor, investigator and judge.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the WikiLeaks revelations. In Spain, there’s a lot of attention, of the documents, the U.S. government cables that have come out, about U.S. interference with the judiciary in Spain. One of the WikiLeaks cables was signed by Edward Aguirre, who is the — President Bush’s ambassador to Spain, who met with you. And he was concerned about a number of issues, and the U.S. has been concerned about the case in which — you opened against six former Bush administration officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for torture at Guantánamo. Explain this case and why it has now been dropped.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] In Spain, opened two procedures against — in the Guantánamo case: a general case against — regarding those six people and another specific case in four cases of torture. They were each in separate courts. The case of the four specific cases of torture is in his court, and it’s gone forward, although without specific indictments against particular individuals. Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, they have requested that the United States answer whether they are following up, investigating that case, or not. And if not, we’ll take it to the next step. It’s quite clear that they’re crimes against humanity, cases of torture, and therefore the government is obliged, under universal jurisdiction, to investigate them.

AMY GOODMAN: The ambassador in the document, in the WikiLeaks cable, said you have an anti-American streak. Your response?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: No, you know, no, I don’t. Enemy against the United States, no. I think that is the justice, only justice, as the torture is a universal crime, is necessary to investigate. Only this.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about — to go back to the case of the Franco era. The New York Times, in an editorial in support of you, said recently, "The real crime[s] in this case are the disappearances, not Mr. Garzón’s investigation. If, as seems likely, these were crimes against humanity under international law, Spain’s 1977 amnesty could not legally absolve them." Interestingly, the charges were brought against you initially by right-wing, pro-Franco groups in the country. So, in essence, some claim that the only one to be prosecuted for the crimes of the Franco era are the judge that has tried to investigate the cases. Could you — for Americans who are not familiar with what happened during the Franco era, could you talk a little bit about that?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] The paradox again is that the government refuses to investigate the crimes against humanity and at the same time is prosecuting the judge who wants to uncover them. There were between 150,000 and 200,000 people disappeared under the Franco regime, as part of the civil population. It’s still not known where the victims lie buried. It’s a permanent crime, and therefore it cannot be absolved by an amnesty law.

AMY GOODMAN: Judge Baltasar Garzón, you have called for the exhumation of 19 unmarked graves, among them the one believed to contain the remains of the great poet, Federico García Lorca. Why?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] He ordered specifically the opening, the exhumation of Lorca’s grave, because it was requested by the families of the other people who apparently are buried with him. And the request was made specifically to the judge of Granada, the area where the burial is.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you hope to find?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] So, the process is paralyzed right now because the judge of the location where Lorca is buried is one of those who objected and brought the case against Garzón. And the Supreme Court has suspended his decision to exhume the grave.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re going to go to break, but when we come back, we want to talk to Judge Baltasar Garzón about what this means that he now has been indicted, he has been suspended, he can’t practice law right now in Spain, what it means for all of these cases. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Víctor Jara. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Víctor Jara, the great Chilean singer who was killed when the Augusto Pinochet forces rose to power and Allended died in the palace, September 11th, another September 11th, remarkably enough, 1973, who died among so many thousands of Chileans. It’s our guest today, Judge Baltasar Garzón, who first held Augusto Pinochet accountable, after his 17 years of brutal rule in Chile. When Augusto Pinochet went to Britain in the late '90s for a doctor's appointment, Judge Baltasar Garzón, from Spain, had him indicted. And it was because of that indictment that Augusto Pinochet was held in Britain for a year, until eventually allowed to go home.

Now Baltasar Garzón, Judge Garzón, faces his own trial, as he has been taken off the bench after crusading on many different issues, including the indictment of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives in 2003.

I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Judge Garzón, I’d like to ask you about another case that you were involved with, which was the investigation of the "dirty war" that occurred against Basque separatists under a Socialist government, the government of Felipe Gonzalez, in Spain. And you — many say that you were responsible for the fall of that government as a result of what you uncovered. Could you talk about what you found? And interestingly now, Felipe Gonzalez is supporting you and saying that what is happening to you is unjust.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] I would never be responsible for an electoral loss that is due to the citizens who voted. What I did was simply investigate accusations of persecution against people accused of terrorism. The state of law is equal for all people. It cannot depend on electoral politics. A number of highly placed officials in the Socialist party, ruling party, government were accused and found guilty and removed. I believe that the democracy and the rule of law was strengthened by this action.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Chile. The family of the former Chilean president, Salvador Allende, asked last month for his body to be exhumed to help determine the cause of his 1973 death. President Allende was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup, September 11th, 1973. The official cause of death on that day in the palace was listed as suicide, but it’s long been speculated he was assassinated by the forces of General Augusto Pinochet. Allende’s daughter, Isabel Allende, spoke to the media.

ISABEL ALLENDE: [translated] We requested the exhumation and autopsy. I think it’s the most rigorous and definitive proof to clear up the causes of his death, and we think this is going to be tremendously important.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the daughter of Salvador Allende, Isabel Allende, not to be confused with the great writer who is his niece. What do you say about the calling for the exhumation and the investigation of whether this was assassination or whether he took his own life as the Augusto Pinochet forces moved into the palace?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] In the first instance, they investigated the criminal actions of those who rose up against a democratically elected government. The actual cause of death is less important than recognizing the fact that this was an illegal action, a coup against a legally elected government. And for those crimes, Pinochet was investigated and indicted in London.

AMY GOODMAN: So where do you stand right now, Judge Garzón? You’ve been suspended. You face trial. You face prison for many years.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: I am provisionally suspended in my function, jurisdictional function. But I hope the trial against me, that we will, in the next month, I think — but it’s very complicated for me, my actual situation, because I cannot to investigate, to work in Spain. But I work right now in La Haya, in the International Criminal Court, with the prosecutor. But it’s not my destination. I hope the resolution, it will be proximally.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Some of your — you have many people who are passionately supporters of yours, as well as very strong critics, including among your colleagues on the bench. Several major judges in Spain have accused you of basically being a media personality trying to grab attention and really overstepping your responsibilities as a judge. How do you answer those in the judicial community who have criticized you in the past?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] What’s most important are the cases in which I have participated. Any judge who had done what I did would be well known. That’s not, in principle, a bad thing. What’s wrong is to impede those investigations and that the victims should not be aided. It’s true that my personality gives an additional passion to it. But that should be appropriate for any judge. All I’ve done is my job, and I intend to continue doing it. And I’m not especially worried about the criticism that comes from the bench.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And even if you’re absolved of the charges, do you think you will be able to continue to function as a judge in Spain?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] It’s possible that I could continue, but right now I’m involved in a very interesting project in Colombia. For a certain amount of time, I’m going to be working with the OAS in Colombia on furthering the peace process and mediating, to work on a means of transitional justice.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In terms of having — achieving a peace between the FARC and the government?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] To be able to mobilize and put into practice the law which came after the demobilization, so cases can go to trial and victims can receive justice.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to, as we wrap up, talk again about universal jurisdiction, what this means, using the Spanish courts to hold tyrants accountable, wherever they may be. The Spanish government is now curtailing this, saying they don’t want to use universal jurisdiction. You have been a crusader for this. Lawyers around the world have looked at what you’re doing, seeing if it’s possible in their own countries. Yet your own government is cracking down on this. Will you be able, if you are cleared of all the charges and can go back to work, to continue to hold international torturers, tyrants, accountable?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] Yes, indeed. Not just me, but any judge should be able to and will be able to do so. No government in the world is easy with the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction. It’s a mistake. I believe it’s a mistake, because the principle of universal jurisdiction allows the fight against impunity to move forward. It’s the final scenario when the country itself is not willing to investigate these crimes, any government.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Were you surprised by some of the WikiLeaks revelations that indicated an extraordinary degree of pressure by the United States government on the judiciary and the government of Spain on cases affecting the United States?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] Yes, it did surprise me. Those who are susceptible to being pressured will be pressured. And if not, the pressure is meaningless. In this case, the justice system in Spain, specifically in regard to Guantánamo, steadfast, stood fast.

AMY GOODMAN: We have just 10 seconds. Short answer. Your assessment of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] The war in Iraq was an unjust and illegal war. And the war in Afghanistan, which has been conducted properly until now, there are many other things that still need to be revealed.

AMY GOODMAN: Judge Baltasar Garzón, thank you so much for being with us.

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