Friday, April 16, 2010

Universally just

Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish investigating magistrate who tried to extradite former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet in the late 1990s, has himself been indicted by a Spanish court. The charge: that he ignored a 1977 amnesty by investigating the cases of people who were executed or who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War and subsequent Franco regime. If convicted, he could be barred for up to 20 years.

So is this good or bad? According to the New York Times, it's dreadful. The charges are being brought, unfairly, by Garzon's far-right opponents. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Spanish, who last year restricted the extent of their law on universal jurisdiction, are doing the right thing. "Whether it's legal for the Spanish judge to to re-fight Spain's 70-year-old civil war will be settled by Spaniards, in Spain, according to Spanish law. Which sounds right to us."

Many countries have closed painful episodes by means of amnesties rather than allowing individual trials. In most cases, such trials would of necessity be highly selective and easily politicized. (If you're interested, here's an excellent article on universal jurisdiction by law professor Eric Posner.)

When outsiders intervene, as Garzon did in many other cases besides that of Pinochet, it's even more of a reach to believe that justice will be served. So, yes, I come down on the side of the Wall Street Journal - which should surprise nobody! What is surprising is that I'm apparently on the same side as Obama: a year ago, his administration refused to respond when Garzon indicted six Bush administration officials for their legal findings regarding torture.

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