Garzón absolved in Francoist crimes case, but still disbarred

February 28, 2012

Garzón on trial at the Spanish Supreme Court. Photo AFP.

In an ostensible attempt to save face, the Spanish Supreme Court absolved Judge Baltasar Garzón yesterday from “prevarication,” or knowingly making a decision against the law, in relation to Garzón’s opening of an investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Franco regime during and after the Spanish Civil War (NYTimes, Guardian). (All Volunteer coverage of Garzón here.)  In its 63-page decision (pdf) the Supreme Court tribunal in charge of trying Garzón chided the judge for faulty legal reasoning on several key points–including the retroactive application of international law, the statute of limitations, and the designation of forced disappearance committed decades ago as “ongoing crimes”–but argued that these problems had been dealt with properly by the judicial process, when Garzón’s own Court dismissed the case in late 2008. Among other noteworthy passages, the Supreme Court tribunal states that the victims’ demand to know the historical truth is legitimate but “cannot be satisfied by the criminal system”: “The investigative methods of the examining magistrate have nothing to do with the investigative process of the historian.  It is not appropriate to mix historical truth with forensic truth … ”

While this decision is formally independent from the Supreme Court sentence three weeks ago that got Garzón disbarred, and from the dismissal of a third case charging Garzón with corruption, the timing and handling of the cases by the Supreme Court has created a strong impression of having being coordinated in order to terminate Garzón’s career. If so, the objective was achieved, but not without collateral damage–to the reputation and legitimacy of the Spanish judicial system, but also to other parties involved. The Francoist crimes case was initially brought to Garzón by victims and their family members in late 2006. In the intervening five years, in which the case has been all but paralyzed, many of the victims have died. Meanwhile, the case has been taken up by the Argentine courts.