It's the name of an old, turn-of-the-century confidence game. A nobleman of great wealth is being held in a Spanish dungeon under a false name. And if the sucker will just chip in to raise the ransom money, he'll be richly rewarded. The imprisoned aristocrat has a beautiful young daughter who may be part of the bargain, too. Details vary. Consult your own e-mails for any number of modern variations on this old theme.
Today's Spaniards can play games, too. It seems the judges of Spain's national court have decided theirs is actually an international one. At one point they were in the process of investigating 16 count 'em, sixteen charges against highly selected foreign nationals. The charges range from torture and genocide to Crimes Against Humanity if not the universe in general.
The ideological orientation of the Spanish judges is easy enough to guess, since the list of usual suspects included six members of the former Bush administration. Plus seven Israelis of various rank, including a former defense minister, for an air strike that killed a Hamas commander and anybody nearby. The court has since backtracked on the charges against the Israelis, but Spanish prosecutors may still try to pursue them for a show trial.
All in all, the jurisprudence of the Spanish court is definitely of the politically correct variety. There hasn't been quite so impartial a tribunal since the Spanish Inquisition.
No top-ranking members of the Obama administration are being investigated by the court. Not yet. But bad law can be fickle, the war in Afghanistan is heating up again, and today's favorites may prove tomorrow's scapegoats.
To date the Spanish court hasn't evinced any great interest in some of the worst violators of human rights on the planet, such as terrorist outfits like Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaida, not to mention the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Brothers Castro in Cuba. (There are many contenders in this loathsome category.)
Nor has Spanish justice focused on the perpetrators of real genocides like the one in Darfur.
When it comes to Spain's own historical record, its national court strictly observes the statute of limitations. So the Spanish jurists are not likely to comment on the mutual atrocities of that country's civil war in the 1930s. Or the conquistadors' cruel and barbarous treatment of the natives of the New World, let alone the mass expulsion of Spain's Jews in 1492, an early case of what today would be called ethnic cleansing. One will look in vain for the name Torquemada on any bill of indictment out of this court. As for the medieval cathedrals in Spain that used to be mosques or synagogues, no plans have been announced to return them to their rightful owners.
Someone should point out that the Spaniards aren't the only ones who can play these legal games. If a Spanish court can refer American officials to prosecutors, an American court equally free of any sense of restraint could issue a warrant for the Spanish judges' arrest on charges of stalking American citizens under cover of law. Or maybe just imitating a court of justice.
Any such step might not prove necessary, since various officials in Spain, too, grow weary of these judicial antics and the retribution they invite from other countries. In the end, the Spanish themselves may put an end to these provocations. Spain's parliament is expected to pass a new law soon that would limit the international jurisdiction of its courts to cases in which Spanish victims are involved. Which would put a serious crimp in this kind of legal showboating.
These days the Spanish prosecutors are being pressed to defend their actions. Now it's they who become prisoners of their own fantasies.