MADRID — The Spanish judge who became an international human rights hero by indicting Augusto Pinochet went on trial Tuesday for probing right-wing atrocities during and after the civil war that brought Gen. Francisco Franco to power.
It is the second trial in as many weeks for Baltasar Garzon, although the charges at the Supreme Court are essentially the same: that he knowingly exceeded the bounds of his authority.
Last week he stood trial for ordering jailhouse wiretaps in a corruption investigation. In this case he has been indicted for investigating the death or disappearance of more than 100,000 civilians at the hands of Franco supporters during and after the 1936-39 war.
Such crimes were covered by an amnesty passed in 1977 as Spain moved to restore democracy after Franco's death in 1975. But Garzon, now 56, investigated anyway. He argues that crimes involving missing persons cannot be covered by amnesty and that the killings and disappearances amounted to a crime against humanity by the Franco regime and such atrocities have no statute of limitations.
About 100 pro-Garzon demonstrators rallied outside the Supreme Court before the trial started, chanting "Garzon, our friend, the people are with you."
Tuesday's session was taken up by procedural motions to be filed by Garzon's lawyer. Garzon himself is scheduled to testify Jan. 31.
The case has been brought because of a complaint filed by two right-wing groups, even though prosecutors say Garzon did nothing wrong and should be acquitted. This is a quirk of Spanish penal law — private citizens can seek to bring criminal charges against someone even if prosecutors disagree.
One key motion filed Tuesday by Garzon's attorney Gonzalo Martinez-Fresneda sought to have the whole case thrown out on grounds that the magistrate who indicted Garzon in 2010 was biased against him.
Luciano Varela helped one of the right-wing groups with court papers it had to file as it sought charges against Garzon, to the point where the group — Manos Limpias, which calls itself a labor union — ended up simply cutting and pasting entire paragraphs from previous documents filed by Varela himself, the attorney said.
"They didn't even bother to correct the spelling mistakes," Martinez-Fresneda said.
The Supreme Court is to take the next few days to rule on the motions.
After Garzon testifies, the defense is expected to summon as witnesses people who lost relatives to pro-Franco militia. Human rights groups say this will be unprecedented in a Spanish court.
If he is ultimately found guilty, Garzon — who was already suspended from his job at the National Court in 2010 — can be removed from the bench for up to 20 years. That would effectively end his career.
The verdict in the first trial could come during this one. In that case, Garzon faces up to 17 years off the bench.
For many in Spain, the trials — and a third case in which Garzon is being probed for his dealings with a big Spanish bank — amount to a witch hunt aimed at punishing Garzon for his status as judicial celebrity thanks to his high-profile cross-border justice cases such as that of Pinochet in 1998 and indicting Osama bin Laden in 2003, and for trying to reopen the old wounds of the Spanish wartime era.