By Sonya Dowsett
MADRID (Reuters) - A former Spanish policeman denied he had carried out torture at a hearing in a Madrid court on Thursday, part of an extradition request from Argentina, where he is wanted for crimes allegedly committed during dictator General Francisco Franco's rule.
Antonio Gonzalez, 67, spoke only to oppose his extradition and deny accusations of torture, radio station Cadena Ser said.
He said he could not remember if he had ever been accused of torture during his time as a policeman in Spain.
"I cannot remember for sure. Maybe a long, long time ago... I've been in retirement since I was 65," he said, according to Cadena Ser.
A High Court spokesman said Gonzalez opposed his extradition but declined to give details about what was said in the closed hearing.
Gonzalez is one of two former policemen targeted with an extradition request from an Argentine judge who is using international human rights law to investigate possible crimes against humanity while Spain upholds an amnesty for Franco-era officials. Spain has yet to decide whether it will extradite the two men.
Spain, in common with many Latin American countries in their transition to democracy, passed an amnesty law in 1977 which pardoned the crimes of the Franco government. Lawyers are seeking to override this legislation under international law.
Hundreds of Spaniards have turned to an Argentine court to seek justice for alleged crimes committed against them and their families during the 36-year dictatorship, which ended with Franco's death in 1975.
Gonzalez, known as 'Billy the Kid', is accused of torturing 13 people between 1971 and 1975, crimes that could net up to 25 years in jail under Argentine law. Fellow former policeman Jesus Munecas is accused of torturing one person.
Spain's state prosecutor opposes the extradition of the men, saying too much time has passed for the crimes to be passed under the country's statute of limitations, which sets the maximum time after an event that legal proceedings may be started.
The state prosecutor has also hinted that the torture accusations against Gonzalez and Munecas could be looked into in Spain. The two men had their passports taken away in December and must report weekly to a court.
Spain's High Court protected Gonzalez's identity during the short court appearance, only allowing photos of the back of his head to be taken. He emerged from the court wearing dark glasses and a motorbike helmet.
Such measures were taken because he had received threats and had been followed in the street, his lawyer said, according to El Pais newspaper.
Munecas appeared before court in a separate extradition hearing last week.
Argentine judge Maria Servini hopes international human rights law will override Spain's amnesty. The law is the same as Spain itself used in 2005 to prosecute a member of Argentina's former military dictatorship in Spanish courts for crimes against humanity.
Pioneering human rights investigator, Baltasar Garzon, told Reuters in an interview in February that although Spain was cooperating with Argentina in the proceedings, he believed it highly unlikely any extradition would take place.
The United Nations urged Spain last October to draw up a plan to search for those who went missing in forced disappearances under Franco and recommended scrapping the amnesty for political crimes committed during the 1936-39 civil war and under Franco.
Spain responded by saying that the amnesty would not be reviewed.
(Reporting By Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Angus MacSwan)