I was in Barcelona for the weekend, and between gasping at Gaudí and marvelling at the other wonders of a city that has a chocolate museum, I found myself thinking quite a bit about Baltasar Garzón. In case you’re not familiar with him, he was one of Spain’s leading judges before being suspended from the bench for eleven years earlier this month after being found guilty of illegally tapping telephone conversations between suspects on remand for massive fraud and their lawyers who were believed to be moving their money beyond the reach of the court.
Señor Garzón’s debut on the world stage was in 1998 when he issued an international warrant for the arrest of former Chilean president General Augusto Pinochet, for the alleged deaths and torture of Spanish citizens. (Pinochet was arrested in London in October 1998, extradited to Chile in March 2000, indicted in September 2006, and died in December 2006 without being convicted.) But before then he was already notorious in Spain for his hard line dealing with the Basque separatist group ETA – which was why my Barcelona trip brought him to mind, as I struggled with my schoolgirl Spanish to decipher menus in Catalan (I dread to think what we ate). And he had little time for drug traffickers either, overseeing the dismantling of several Galician gangs used as European distribution operations by Colombian cartels.
No-one could accuse Señor Garzón of a lack of ambition: as well as Pinochet, he has proposed bringing actions (with varying degrees of success) against General Franco, six senior members of George W Bush’s government, and Henry Kissinger. As reported by the Beeb, “[Garzón’s] supporters on the left view him as a champion of human rights and justice, but his detractors believe he is a politically-motivated publicity-seeker”. Either way, he is planning to appeal against his suspension from the bench, and I for one hope he succeeds: he may not always be right, but his passion to see wrongs righted is something to admire.
I find that this is one of life’s more interesting moral dilemmas ….. whether or not we should accept a slight blurring or bending of the law if it then helps to capture or deter someone who is or might be committing a larger or more clear cut crime. It is perhaps too simplistic to think that the law should never be broken in pursuit of the greater good but there are also plenty of examples where the dividing line has definitely been crossed by those who thought they were doing the right thing. In fact, this theme is always very popular for film and TV plots (The Star Chamber, Falling Down & the Death Wish series spring to mind).
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Señor Garzón.
You’re absolutely right, Graham – it’s the old “ends justifying the means” dilemma. I think also that those who work in law enforcement become more cynical, and have little time for the niceties of “rights” for those whom they know to be playing the system. They then have to balance this to make sure that said scumbag does not get off on a technicality. On the other hand, there are those – as you say – who lose sight of what is right in their pursuit, ironically, of what they think is right.
Best wishes from Susan