Trial set for Spanish judge over war crimes probe

AP News
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Posted: Nov 29, 2011 6:53 AM
Trial set for Spanish judge over war crimes probe

The Spanish judge known for going after Augusto Pinochet and Osama bin Laden will go on trial himself on Jan. 24 for allegedly overstepping his jurisdiction in a probe of Spanish Civil War crimes, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Judge Baltasar Garzon was indicted and suspended provisionally from his National Court post in 2010 for allegedly violating his jurisdiction by probing the execution or disappearance of civilians at the hands of supporters of Gen. Francisco Franco during and after the 1936-39 war.

Those crimes were covered by an amnesty approved in 1977, two years after Franco died, as the country tried to put the pain of the war behind it and move toward restoring democracy.

But Garzon investigated anyway. He has argued that the executions and disappearances amounted to a systematic campaign to crush opponents and thus a crime against humanity that could not be amnestied.

Attorney Gonzalo Martinez-Fresneda said Tuesday he received notice of the trial date from the Supreme Court a day earlier.

If convicted Garzon faces a suspension of up to 20 years. The lawyer said such a punishment would in effect end the 56-year-old judge's career in Spain.

Before the high-profile case, Garzon will stand trial on Jan. 17 for alleged misconduct in a corruption probe he was handling.

Garzon is also being probed for payments he received while teaching in New York in 2005 and 2006 during a sabbatical from his court job in Madrid.

The three cases mark a spectacular fall from grace for a divisive man who is arguably one of Spain's best-known people abroad.

Human rights lawyers hail him as a hero for pioneering use of the legal doctrine of universal jurisdiction _ the idea that some crimes are so heinous they can be prosecuted in countries other than those where they were allegedly committed.

It was on this basis that Garzon indicted Pinochet in 1998, having him arrested while the former Chilean dictator visited London, and bin Laden in 2003 over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

Britain ultimately declined to extradite Pinochet, citing his ill health, and he died in Chile in 2006 without having stood trial. Bin Laden eluded capture and was killed in a U.S. special forces raid this year in Pakistan.

At home, Garzon is reviled by many conservatives. They see him as a publicity-loving figure who lacks partiality and favors leftist causes.