The Dictator Hunter

Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish jurist renowned for attempting to bring the rich and powerful to justice, has been convicted of exceeding his authority. As part of a comprehensive corruption investigation of Spain’s conservative Popular Party, in 2009 he ordered wiretaps of jailhouse conversations between inmates and their lawyers. The Popular Party is now the Powerful Party; they currently rule Spain. Their country’s Supreme Court convicted Garzon and barred him from the bench past the mandatory retirement age.  Though he might still work as an advisor to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, he’s finished in Spain.

And he might even face jail time. He faces two other charges, including one that seeks to punish him for violating a 1977 law that prohibits investigations of political crimes during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and the decades of martial law that followed. Garzon had the nerve to investigate more than 100,000 deaths and disappearances of his countrymen.

Garzon’s former position at Spain’s National Court gave him the power to prosecute domestic miscreants, such as Basque terrorists and corrupt politicians. But his bravest work may have been in the international arena. In 1998, he indicted Chilean dictator-murderer Augusto Pinochet, a vile criminal propped up by the CIA and an all-star team of University of Chicago economists.

Similar investigations into political crimes and genocides in Rwanda, Guatemala, and Tibet made Garzon a heroic figure to many progressive thinkers. He was not, however, a favorite of former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who Garzon hoped to indict for authorizing torture of inmates at Guantanamo. The case was dropped beneath a deluge of American pressure.

You could say that the oligarchs and megalomaniacs who run the world weren’t exactly heartbroken to see Garzon convicted of something. (Anything!) Finally this nettlesome man is out of the finely coiffed hair of his powerful betters.

Garzon was colloquially known as “the dictator hunter,” and it was he who brought the principle of universal jurisdiction to the public consciousness. The concept was simple: Some crimes (genocide; organized political violence) violate “universal laws” of human decency and, therefore, aren’t subject to the usual rules of jurisdiction; they deserve to be prosecuted regardless of location. Naturally, such a concept doesn’t play well with the planet’s bullies and thieves. They may be their nation’s Strong Man, and they may control their nation’s media, law enforcement and court system, but no one can control the entire world. So long as free speech and the rule of law still exist in ever shrinking precincts around the globe, someone like Garzon will have the ability to place a check on the unbridled cruelty your average dictator inflicts on those less malignant than he.

When the global revolution comes, hundreds of Baltasar Garzons will be on hand to deliver justice. Until then, one more lamb who dared speak truth to power has been properly butchered.

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