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Spanish judge says conscience clear as his trial for probing civil war atrocities concludes
MADRID (AP) ' The Spanish judge famous for pursuing human rights crimes across borders said his conscience is clear as his trial for probing right-wing atrocities during his own country's civil war came to a close Wednesday.
Judge Baltasar Garzon made his comments in his final statement to a seven-judge panel at the Supreme Court.
Garzon, 56, said he launched his 2008 investigation of right-wing killings and disappearances of more than 100,000 civilians in Spain's 1936-39 war because he felt victims had been neglected.
The conflict pitted leftist government, or Republican, forces against rebellious right-wing troops and militia led by Gen. Francisco Franco, who ultimately won and went on to rule as a dictator until his death in 1975.
Garzon faces charges of knowingly overstepping his authority because war-time crimes were covered by an amnesty passed in 1977.
Garzon acted anyway. He has argued that pro-Franco forces waged a systematic campaign to snuff out opposition during and in the immediate aftermath of the war and this amounted to a crime against humanity. Garzon says that under international law, such crimes cannot be amnestied.
In his statement Wednesday, Garzon said he was driven by the idea of addressing "the helplessness of the victims, who in this kind of crime are the main element that any judge must defend."
"My conscience is clear," he said.
The trial started Jan. 24, and in it for the first time a Spanish court heard oral testimony from people who lost relatives to pro-Franco forces.
The Republican side also committed atrocities in the war but these were thoroughly documented by the Franco regime.
If convicted Garzon faces up to 20 years of suspension from the bench. That would in effect end his career as a judge.
He also is awaiting a verdict in a trial held earlier in January. Then, he faced the same charge ' knowingly overstepping the bounds of his jurisdiction ' for ordering wiretaps of jailhouse conversations between detainees and their lawyers in a corruption probe.
Garzon is perhaps best-known for indicting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998 while Pinochet visited London, having him arrested and trying in vain to bring him to trial in Madrid under the principle of universal jurisdiction ' the idea that some crimes are so heinous they can be prosecuted anywhere.