|"Maria Martin recalled how her mother|
was one of three women and 27 men
shot dead." (EPA)
By Fiona Govan
The Telegraph, February 1, 2012
"For many it was more than 70 years overdue, but on Wednesday in a courtroom in Madrid, atrocities committed by Franco's forces during the Spanish Civil war and ensuing dictatorship were voiced for the first time. In a barely audible voice choked with emotion, a bowed old lady, dressed in black and supported by a Zimmer-frame, called for the justice her family had been waiting for since 1936. 'They took her out and they took her away,' wheezed Maria Martin, 81, from the witness box. 'I never saw my mother again.' She was the first of a string of witnesses called to defend Spain's crusading judge Baltasar Garzon, 56, who stands accused of overstretching his judicial powers with an attempt to investigate Spain's darkest era. The investigating magistrate is accused of breaching a 1977 amnesty law to explore the fate of the more than 114,000 victims who disappeared during the 1936-39 civil war and ensuing 36-year dictatorship and whose bodies lie in unmarked graves across Spain. His defence team hope that by introducing the stories of just a few of those who originally petitioned the judge to open 'a truth commission' into the Franco era, his motives will become clear.
The judge, who famously sought the extradition of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from London, argues that his Franco investigation launched in 2008 was a legitimate attempt to attend to the hundreds of thousands of victims within Spain whose rights have been ignored for too long. And while Mrs. Martin may have hoped that her day in court would come with Mr. Garzon presiding and in pursuit of the truth, rather than in the dock himself, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. She recalled how when she was a mere six years-old, her mother, Agustina, was one of three women and 27 men, shot dead and their corpses dumped into a mass grave on the side of a road. The desire to recover the remains of her mother for a proper burial had haunted her family life ever since. 'Until the day he died in 1977 my father wrote to the local authorities to try to recover the body. They told him: "Go away, leave us in peace or we will do to you what we did to her",' she told the Supreme Court. Another told how her father had been taken from their home in the Canary Islands in the middle of the night by Franco's guards and never seen again. 'They beat them. They kept them as prisoners and did a lot of things to them,' Pino Sosa Sosa, 75, told the court. It was scenes like this that detractors of Mr Garzon had hoped to avoid by bringing the abuse of power case and securing his suspension from the bench. The trial has highlighted the still deep divisions in Spain with many viewing his attempts to delve into the past as raking over dead best forgotten and reopening old wounds. But each day of the trial the silver-haired judge is greeted outside the Supreme Court building by crowds of supporters who have labelled the case 'a farce' -- a politically motivated witch-hunt intended to silence him. Last Sunday thousands marched through the capital in support of Mr. Garzon, whose defence centres on the argument that "systematic elimination" cannot be covered by Amnesty laws. 'To see how the judge who tried to help them is being criminalised is terrible,' explained Emilio Silva, who has been outside court throughout the trial and is the head of a historical memory association helping local groups locate and exhume mass graves. But the case had taken an interesting and satisfying twist, he admitted. 'For the first time, these people can tell a court what the dictatorship inflicted on them,' he said. 'And that has been a long time coming.'"
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]