Spanish judge's coup in war on brutality

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JUDGE BALTASAR Garzon has been making news in Spain for nearly 10 years, but securing the arrest of Chile's General Pinochet on suspicion of genocide and international terrorism is his most spectacular achievement so far.

The judge shot to fame in 1990 for putting scores of Spanish drug barons behind bars and pursuing socialist politicians implicated in the Gal, Spain's illegal anti-terrorist death squads.

He also took up the cause of the victims of Jorge Videla, the former Argentine military dictator, funnelling to the Argentinian courts details about the theft of money and children from thousands detained in torture chambers between 1976 and 1982. This evidence, squirrelled away in files in Switzerland, helped to put Videla in jail.

A discreet workaholic from Andalucia, Judge Garzon was appointed to the National Court in 1988 at only 33. He became a public figure of such charisma that in 1993 Felipe Gonzalez, the former prime minister, took him into his socialist government as anti-drugs supremo. But he quit in 1995.

He then reopened the case against his socialist allies for organising and funding illegal covert actions against suspected members of Eta. As a result, Jose Barrionuevo, the former socialist interior minister, was jailed in August for 12 years for kidnapping and embezzlement.

The pursuit of General Pinochet has its roots in the case against Argentina. Judge Garzon found that hundreds of Spaniards or children of Spaniards detained by Argentinian generals were handed over to Chile's merciless Dina military police to be tortured and killed.

Pinochet and Videla collaborated on a cross-border "Condor programme" that coordinated repression of dissidents throughout Latin America. In 1996, the Spanish judiciary opened proceedings against Pinochet on grounds of genocide and international terrorism, torture and abductions.

There seemed little prospect of success. By then Senator-for-life Pinochet seemed armour-plated by a diplomatic immunity. But his London trip provided the slender opportunity that Judge Garzon seized. There is no diplomatic immunity in international law for genocide and terrorism.