Accessibility links

Breaking News

Spanish Judge Who Indicted Pinochet, bin Laden, Under Investigation

A high-profile Spanish judge known for trying to bring foreign dictators and terrorists to justice has been charged with abuse of power.

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon faces trial on charges of abuse of power for probing atrocities committed during Spain's civil war. His investigation apparently violated a 1977 amnesty. The Associated Press news agency reports that Garzon probably will be suspended from his job in a matter of days and could face trial as early as June.

Garzon is well known internationally, not for delving into Spain's past, but for pursuing well-known foreign figures like former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Britain arrested Pinochet in London at Garzon's initiative, but British authorities ultimately refused to extradite the Chilean general to face justice in Spain.

Garzon also indicted Osama bin Laden for the September 2001 terror attacks on the United States.

In both cases, Garzon acted under Spain's principle of universal jurisdiction, which contends the world's most serious crimes can be tried anywhere.

European Council on Foreign Relations international justice analyst Anthony Dworkin says Garzon has become a symbol of this justice without borders. "Garzon has emerged as the most ambitious and crusading judges in this particular field. He has been a very forceful advocate that people who commit serious crimes should be held accountable," he said.

Amnesty International senior legal advisor in London Christopher Hall says that during the past decade, several countries have taken on and expanded their scope of universal jurisdiction.

"The overall trend is definitely to recognizing crimes against international law are serious crimes to be investigated and prosecuted by police and prosecutors, and not simply diplomatic problems to be resolved by diplomats and politicians," he said.

Garzon is a polarizing figure - considered a hero by some and an egotistical meddler by others. The concept of universal jurisdiction he has championed has been criticized as expensive and unwieldy, causing diplomatic problems for governments that embrace it.

Analyst Anthony Dworkin says that in recent years, some countries have rolled back their definition of it. But Amnesty International's Christopher Hall says international jurisdiction is here to stay, and not just because of Judge Garzon. "Country after country is using universal jurisdiction, and it is not simply a handful of cases by Judge Garzon," he said.

Garzon denies wrongdoing in the Spanish Civil War probe. If he is found guilty, he could be suspended from his duties for up to 20 years.