[JURIST] The Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] on Wednesday charged [order, PDF; in Spanish] National Court judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] with abuse of power for the investigation of war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] during the Spanish Civil War [LOC backgrounder]. In 2008, Garzon ordered the exhumation [JURIST report] of 19 mass graves in Spain in order to assemble a definitive national registry of Civil War victims, despite a 1977 amnesty law. Investigating magistrate Luciano Varela ruled that it is likely Garzon committed abuse of power by conducting the investigation. Garzon's lawyer plans to challenge [El Pais report, in Spanish] the charges on appeal and has described the proceedings as "contaminated." No trial date has been set. If convicted, Garzon could be removed from the bench.
After a February ruling that Garzon may have exceeded his jurisdictional authority by launching the investigation, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled last month that he could be formally charged [JURIST reports]. Garzon has consistently defended [JURIST report] the validity of the investigation by insisting that he acted within the bounds of the law and appropriately applied the law at all times. The Supreme Court agreed to review [JURIST report] Garzon's actions last May in response to a complaint filed by Manos Limpias [group website, in Spanish], a union of public servants in Spain, which alleged that Garzon did not have the requisite jurisdictional authority to launch the investigation. Just one month after Garzon launched the investigation in 2008, Spanish prosecutors and other political figures voiced their concern by challenging [JURIST report] the validity of the investigation. Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] extensively in the past to bring several high-profile cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Latin American dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives].