Spain's Firebrand Judge

20 October 1998
Article

Judge Garzón, who works as an investigating magistrate rather than a judge on the bench, took more than five months to conclude that a Spanish court could have jurisdiction in the case against Pinochet.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

Spanish Judge Widens Charges

As a Spanish judge broadened genocide charges against him, Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator who has been detained in London for extradition hearings, said through his British lawyer Monday that he would oppose any attempt to force him to stand trial in Madrid. Baltasar Garzón, a Spanish judge widened the accusations against General Pinochet on Monday to include charges of genocide, torture and terrorism relating to 94 people - not just Spanish citizens but also citizens of Argentina, Chile, the United States and Britain.

PARIS - A stubbornly independent judge who more than once has challenged the Spanish government, Baltasar Garzón was ridiculed when he first set out to pursue the most notorious rightist generals in South America for human rights crimes committed in the 1970s and 80s, offenses for which they had already been granted amnesty at home. Now, after Judge Garzón succeeded in getting Scotland Yard to arrest the former dictator of Chile, General Augusto Pinochet, the Spanish magistrate has suddenly moved closer to creating an important legal precedent, one that could make the retirement of former dictators decidedly uncomfortable.

While this is certainly his most spectacular strike, the Madrid judge has long been at the center of controversy. Even before taking on the cases against former military rulers in Argentina as well as Chile, he had earned a high profile in Spain by investigating some of the country's most explosive issues, among them drug trafficking, Basque terrorism and government corruption.

His critics have often accused him of self-promotion because he frequently appears on the front pages of newspapers. But Judge Garzón, in a recent interview, responded that he was determined to expose crime in high places too easily overlooked and that in talking to the media he helps to prevent sensitive cases from being covered up. His involvement with South America began in 1996 when he opened a criminal investigation after Spanish legal associations asked him to look into the torture, disappearance and killing of Spanish citizens in Argentina during that country's military rule from 1976 to 1983.

Judge Garzón, who works as an investigating magistrate rather than a judge on the bench, took more than five months to conclude that a Spanish court could have jurisdiction in the case. He argued that, under Spanish and international law, specifically under the Geneva conventions, serious crimes involving human rights can be tried anywhere and are not subject to any time limit. Judge Garzón brought charges against 110 former and active military and police officers in Argentina and issued international arrest warrants against at least 11 senior Argentine military officers. Countries that are part of the Interpol agreement would have to arrest the officers if they travelled to those countries.

The Madrid court has charged General Pinochet and other members of the Chilean high command with crimes against humanity, including genocide and terrorism, involving the deaths of more than 4,000 people. The extraterritorial investigations have drawn scorn from the civilian governments in Argentina and Chile, which have argued that the accused officers have all benefited from amnesties and that no foreign judge can alter that. Spain's conservative prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, has also told Buenos Aires and Santiago that he disapproves of the investigations, but that he cannot stop them. He and other government officials have complained that the judge's activities are complicating Spain's relations in Latin America.

On Oct. 14, after learning that General Pinochet had entered Britain for medical treatment, Judge Garzón asked British authorities to hold him until Spanish investigators could interrogate him about a series of crimes, particularly those committed under a so-called Operation Condor in which Argentina and Chile cooperated in torturing and killing several hundred of their political opponents.

British authorities informed Judge Garzón that General Pinochet would released from the hospital over weekend and that they could not legal detain him. Judge Garzón then issued arrest warrant against General Pinochet specifically linking him to the case of a Chilean citizen, Edgardo Henriquez who in April 1976 was kidnapped a tortured in Argentina and soon aft handed over to the Chilean secret police then under General Pinochet's command. He has since been missing. A lawyer familiar with the proceedings said Judge Garzón would soon formalize his request that Britain extradite General Pinochet to Spain. Before it can be transmitted to British authorities, an extradition request for must first be accepted by the Spanish Ministry of Justice and approved by Mr. Aznar and his cabinet. Mr. Aznar has given no clear indication yet of the outcome.

Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company