VIRTUALLY ALL the coverage of judge Garzón's suspension in the English-language media lacks a basic understanding of recent events at best, or outright distortion at worst (yeah, I know, big surprise), on the nature of the accusation against him, the circumstances that surround it, and Spain's recent history.
First, quite a few reports fail to mention that Garzón is in hot water not just for this case but also for other two, which involve very serious accusations: no less than bribery, and illegally tapping the conversations between detainees and their lawyers in a corruption case (Spanish laws only allow to do so in terrorism investigation). Breaking the attorney / client privilege, one of the fundamental tenets of a system under the rule of law, would make civil libertarians raise in anger if it was someone else. He's also a notoriously bad judge (unlike the US, in Spain it's the judge who investigates and builds the accusation). He takes on very high-profile cases but, after the televised perp walks and the media exposure, the courts end up finding the accused not guilty for insufficient evidence. It happened with the al-Qaeda terrorists who plotted to bomb the Madrid courts building, or the Operation Necora against drug lords in Galicia, among many others. And yes, even with Pinochet (just remember: where did the Chilean dictator ended up after the crusading judge went after him? At home. Some success.) Garzón has also often used more than questionable methods against detainees, such as calling the media to cover the actual arrests, long interrogations that prevented the accused from food intake. Or even calling detainees for questioning at midnight and keeping them up all night. Garzón is a night owl, but if it was Guantanamo instead of Madrid, Garzón would issue an arrest warrant against the interrogators. Of course if the reports mentioned all this many people would perhaps, just perhaps, realize that Garzón may not be the superhero he and his apologists claim he is.
Second, Garzón is not being judged by a far-right group: only the judges, well, judge. He's been unanimously ordered to stand trial by the Supreme Court, after several appeals that were resolved against him with not even one dissenting opinion by any of the justices. Judge Varela, who is conducting the case, is not a right-winger either: he apparently declined an offer to join the Felipe González administration in the 90s because the Socialists where too conservative. Friday's decision was not a guilty sentence, but a separation pending trial, also adopted unanimously. In Spain's legal system (as in other democratic countries) if there's a reasonable case that someone has broken the law that person has to be indicted, precisely because it's during the trial when the judge will decide whether that person is guilty or not (if he's not, he'll be acquitted and will rejoin the judiciary). Judges, no matter how crusading, popular and cool they may be, are no exception. And in a system with legal guarantees, it's irrelevant whether the groups that denounced Garzón at the courts are far right, far left, Raelians, or believers in the healing power of the virgins' menstrual blood. Just like anyone else, the groups who denounced Garzón (they are indeed right wingers, and not the Tea Party-are-fascists kind of right; those guys are the Falange and ultra groups, which are residual but nevertheless exist) still have the right of taking someone to courts, no matter how repugnant we think their positions are. If the courts failed to prosecute they could be accused of judicial breach of duty.
Third, Garzón is not being indicted for investigating the Franco-era crimes, but for allegedly doing it with judicial misconduct under the excuse of helping the families of Francoist crimes to unbury their dead. But Spanish lawmakers had passed a 2007 Historic Memory law actually allowing the opening of mass graves under the supervision of local courts across the country. Garzón -a magistrate of the Audiencia Nacional, a special jurisdiction dealing with terrorism, corruption, crimes against humanity, and other high-profile cases- had to allege, in order to take the case from the lower courts, that the Franco regime had committed crimes against humanity (duh). He had to indict the whole Franco regime in order to have a reason to open the mass graves, otherwise it would stay in the lower courts. The Supreme Court repeatedly told him that he couldn't do it because it wasn't his jurisdiction according to the Historic Memory law; it was being taken care of by the local courts. There was also the small detail that Generalissimo Franco was still dead, as well as his top men (another duh). And finally, Garzón was voiding the 1977 amnesty, which he had used a few years earlier to repeatedly dismiss the case against Santiago Carrillo, a Communist leader who directly oversaw the extrajudicial murders of thousands of civilians during the Civil War (95-year-old Carrillo is still alive and paradoxically could be one of the main losers if Spain strikes down that law, by the way). Garzón proceeded anyway, against direct orders from a higher courts, hence the accusation of judicial misconduct. And oddly, because of this jurisdictional disputes most of the local courts inhibited themselves from the opening of mass graves until they were resolved. Which means that as a result of him mingling in somebody else's case, Garzón not only didn't help, but paradoxically stopped the opening o the mass graves that he said he was trying to help.
Fourth, the 1977 amnesty approved by the Spanish parliament at the beginning of the democratic transition after Franco's death did not clear "atrocities linked to Gen. Francisco Franco's four-decade-long dictatorship," as the Wall Street Journal states (it's not the only one doing so). The amnesty had been a rallying cry even before the transition, but not by the right seeking to absolve themselves for their crimes but by the left, in order to being able to start from scratch and being able to participate openly in the political process. It was also a demand from Basque and Catalan nationalists who at the time often took the streets with slogans like "Libertad, amnistía, estatuto de autonomía" (Freedom, Amnesty, and Statute of Autonomy). The 1977 amnesty was not aimed at the 'heirs of Franco' because those guys at the time still enjoyed strong links to the military. The army's tanks and guns were enough protection against any temptation to go after them (the situation completely changed after the 1981 coup attempt: the modernization and cleanup of reactionary elements in the army was thorough and masterly done, with impeccable democratic methods by the Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez; but we're talking about an earlier time now). The amnesty benefited not just leftist parties and politicians, which were illegal until then, but also political prisoners and most notably, also those convicted for terrorism and other crimes. It was passed by a big majority of leftist, centrist and right-of-center parties. The only ones against it were a handful of right-wing lawmakers who opposed it precisely because the amnesty set free all Basque ETA terrorists with blood crimes, including those who had killed scores law enforcement officers, servicemen, civilians, even those who killed Admiral Carrero Blanco, whom Franco had appointed as his successor, in 1973. To summarize: the 1977 amnesty was a law to benefit the left which was still outside the institutions, not the right who had inherited them from Franco.
And finally, I have yet to see any report clearly explaining that Garzón has as many enemies among the Socialists than among the right, if not more, because of what happened a decade and a half ago. In the mid-90s, Garzón joined the Felipe Gonzalez administration; he left just a few months after, apparently feeling betrayed for not being appointed to a cabinet-level position he allegedly had been promised. Whatever may be the reason, the fact is that as soon as he rejoined the judiciary, Garzon started investigating the González administration's death squads and dirty war against ETA, which killed and maimed several terrorists. He prosecuted and convicted a bunch of then ministers and underministers, and was a breath away of prosecuting González himself. That's something that the Socialists had never forgiven him for... until now, when it's politically convenient to support him. Hypocritically, of course, but still. Clearly behind in the polls and blamed with the country's economy crumbling down, what's better for the Socialists than being able to agitate the straw man that the fascists are coming, the fascist are coming?, implying "Vote for us, or they will come back!". As an evidence of how politically motivated the support for Garzón is, just think about what happened Friday afternoon, the day he was suspended. Hundreds of people took to the streets in protest for the court's decision. And where do you think they went to display their indignation, banners and bullhorns and all? To the court's building? To the headquarters of the residual right-wing groups who started the accusation? No, of course not. They demontrated at the headquarters of the opposition Popular Party, who had nothing to do with the case other than to defend the Supreme Court's independence from the attacks and the fact that no one, not even a media-darling judge, is above the law. (The attacks on the Supreme Court in recent weeks have been amazing, with speeches by retired judges who served 15 years as public prosecutors under Franco without dismay now defending Garzón and calling the Supreme Court justices "Francoists.")
In any case, the whole situation seems to have had a very positive effect, at least: judging from today's cover pages at all Spanish newspapers, one would say that the economic crisis has simply vanished.
Talk about superheros: if I was Zapatero, I'd appoint Garzon as economy minister.
UPDATE. There's an analogy by Santiago González, a Spanish writer, which I can't resist translating:
Historian Juan Pablo Fusi wrote some time ago that, since the death of Franco, 19,000 books have been written on his regime, the Civil War and the dictatorship. How can it be than not one historian has been in trouble for investigating the same that Garzón did? Let's ask ourselves: if a historian had lifted 60 pages of, let's say, Paul Preston's biography of Franco, and had been sentenced for plagiarism, would Garzón's defenders take him under his wing saying that he's "yet another victim of the Franco regime"?
UDPATE II. The Los Angeles Times is proving my point again today: see how its editorial repeats the same misconceptions all over the piece.
UPDATE III. And it's not the English-language press who gets it wrong: if you can read French, take a look at Le Monde's editorial today.