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The Rise and Fall of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón

9:15 AM, Feb 17, 2012 • By SOEREN KERN
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In any case, Garzón and his colleagues have been highly selective about the cases they pursue. For example, they have never attempted to prosecute any Palestinian terrorists for war crimes, nor have they had much zeal for investigating crimes against humanity in Chechnya or Darfur, nor have they prosecuted any of the suspected Nazi war criminals who sought refuge in Spain after the end of World War II.

In 2009, Attorney General Cándido Conde-Pumpido asked Garzón to shelve his case against the Americans and warned of the risks of turning the Spanish justice system into a “plaything” for politically motivated prosecutions. Rather than heeding that advice, Garzón redoubled his efforts to pursue U.S. officials suspected of authorizing and carrying out the alleged torture of four inmates at Guantánamo Bay.

Concerned that Spain’s judicial system was being hijacked by left wing groups pursuing political vendettas (and that Spain’s media savvy judges were more interested in scoring political points than in upholding the law), the Spanish parliament in 2009 passed a bill to narrow the scope of the universal jurisdiction law to cases in which the victims of a crime include Spaniards or the alleged perpetrators were in Spain.

But old habits die hard. In January 2012, Garzón’s successor, Judge Pablo Rafael Ruz Gutiérrez, reactivated the investigation into the alleged torture of detainees at Guantánamo Bay. In a 19-page ruling, Ruz said he would seek additional information in the case of the four Guantánamo captives, who have since been released, but who allege they were humiliated and subjected to torture while in U.S. custody.

Because the United States has not pursued the matter, Ruz said, his court has jurisdiction to investigate the former U.S. officials named in the former detainees’ complaint. Those officials include former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and two former Guantánamo commanders, retired Marine Major General Michael Lehnert and retired Army Major General Geoffrey Miller.

In any case, Garzón’s friends on the left, both inside Spain and abroad, have expressed outrage that the “crusading human rights judge” was hoist with his own petard. In a rather hysterical editorial, the New York Times, for example, described the Spanish high court ruling as an “appalling attack on judicial independence.”

Not everyone agrees. Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said the ruling demonstrated “the normal functioning of our institutions.” Esperanza Aguirre, the head of Madrid’s center-right regional government, said, “It is a happy day for the rule of law.”

Henry Kissinger once warned that “universal jurisdiction risks creating universal tyranny–that of judges.” In Spain, the judges, led by Garzón, have been responsible for their own undoing.

Soeren Kern is senior fellow for European politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group.

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