Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon goes on trial

To his supporters Baltasar Garzon is a crusader for human rights, a man who truly speaks for the dead, the man who successfully used European law to have the British authorities arrest Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London.

To his detractors, the 56-year old prosecuting magistrate is a meddlesome, liberal jurist who uses his authority to bend the law and carry out vendettas against political opponents.

Garzon was arrested and suspended from his position almost two years ago on three separate charges. Today the first trial got underway in Spain's Supreme Court. He is accused of using illegal wire taps in investigations of some businessmen who funded Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Parti Popular.

Next week a second trial begins and this one may be the real reason the super-judge has got into trouble. He is charged with violating the post-Franco amnesty law for ordering an investigation into the disappearances of tens of thousands of people during the Spanish Civil War and later Franco dictatorship.

The Franco era only ended in 1975 with the dictator's death and for many Spaniards it is a scar that has barely knitted together. Spanish society keeps its memory of that time under wraps. Those who look too deeply for the truth about that era risk their careers, as Garzon is finding to his cost. 

Ironically, yesterday the last survivor of Franco's cabinet, Manuel Fraga, died.  Following Spain's transition to democracy, Fraga, founded the Parti Popular.  He recently expressed the Spanish right-wing's attitude to the 35 years of Franco dictatorship.  "There was an amnesty here, which means both mutual pardon and mutual forgetting. Amnesty means amnesia."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.