FORMER PRIME MINISTER Jose Maria Aznar is testifying right now before the parliamentary commission investigating the March 11 terrorist attack. I'm watching it since I have the TV on in the background (actually it's been going on non-stop since 9am, and now it's 5.30pm local time). He started with a 40-minute written statement, and then the session proceeded to the questioning from representatives of all political parties with representation in the legislative body. In two rounds with no strict time limit, so this may well go on for quite a while (former Interior minister Angel Acebes testified for 11 hours, so this is not going to end soon; the last commissioner in the first round has started about 20 minutes ago).
It's a wealth of information and very difficult to liveblog in another language, so I'll be posting articles and briefs from English-language media, with some critique if pertinent. I'll be adding to this post today via updates, but I'll move to a brand new entry tomorrow so as to keep the blog fresh.
The Irish Examiner:
In opening remarks, Aznar said criticism that his government was too quick to blame the armed Basque terror group ETA for the attack was unfair because even opposition politicians did so even before the government did.
“I have been accused of being eager to blame the massacre on the terrorist gang ETA. If this were the case, one must admit that others beat me to it,” Aznar said.
The local government of Spain’s northern Basque region also immediately blamed ETA and so did officials of the then-opposition Socialist Party.
[...] Critics say the government’s primary concern was trying to salvage national elections three days later, amid fears that Islamic involvement in the attacks would be seen as revenge for Aznar’s support of the Iraq war in the face of vehement opposition at home.
Aznar denied his party lied when it blamed ETA.
“A search has been underway for the smoking gun of the alleged lie of the government I presided over,” Aznar said. “After months of investigation, after so many hours of testimony, that evidence has not appeared. We told the truth about what we knew.”
Aznar’s testimony was expected to focus on what former Interior Minister Angel Acebes and former Foreign Minister Ana Palacio have already told the commission: The attack was unpredictable, most assailants and ringleaders are already in jail and the Popular Party never misled voters.
But the hearings are also political. Conservatives link the attack to the election outcome, in effect questioning the Socialist government's legitimacy.This is a very relevant point and very similar, in logic, to the Saddam/Osama links and 9/11; almost as a pathetic parody. The Socialist party is not only 'ridiculing the idea', but saying that it's metaphysically impossible that a secular group like ETA might want to collaborate with a fanatical religious group (familiar argument, eh?). The truth is that these ties, in the past, are much more than documented. This is what Aznar and the PP are saying, while pointing to some unanswered questions that may lead to the conclusion that ETA had some collaborating role in the March attacks. So they are not asserting that they did, only that there are some indications that it may be the case, and that it's irresponsible not to investigate this at all, as it's happening right now. Zapatero and the Socialist party are distorting this, saying that the PP is still claiming that it was ETA and not Islamic terrorists who did the attack. That's a distortion of what Aznar is saying; worse, it's an alibi to avoid investigating that line, and that's what's happening.
The new Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has responded by focusing on what it calls the failures of Aznar's Popular Party.
While no evidence has emerged linking ETA to the bombing, police investigators and Popular Party officials insist a connection with the Basque separatists -- who have hit Spanish cities with dozens of deadly bomb attacks over several decades -- cannot be ruled out.
Socialists and their center-left allies that dominate the commission ridicule that contention, but cannot prove it is wrong.
About this potential ETA - Islamic terrorists link, see this weird article on The Guardian yesterday. Weird because on the one hand, it gives a partial list of these clues; on the other, it presents them as if they belonged to a loony conspiracy theory, just because it's the newspaper El Mundo raising the questions and its competitor El Pais disproving them. Well, it's still unknown if these investigation by El Mundo will or not lead to a solid evidence, but it's also hard to dismiss them as loony conspirazoids. After all, they were the ones who uncovered the death squads and corruption/embezzlement by the previous Socialist government during Felipe Gonzalez's administration (1982-1996). And yes, just like now, the pro-Socialist (and anti-American) El Pais tried to counter the allegations and labeled investigators as conspirazoids... until they couldn't hide it anymore as the evidence became unimpeachable (see also this previous post I wrote about this)
UPDATE II. State-owned news agency EFE:
Aznar accused the Socialists and the media of manipulating the situation to their own ends -- their goal the electoral defeat of his administration.I wrote about this a while ago.
"It was others who lied," Aznar charged, adding that the 13 March demonstrations against his party had constituted "a serious alteration of the laws of the electoral game."
Spanish electoral law demands a 'day of reflection' the day before a
general election without any campaigning.
Aznar said that there had been "enormous manipulation" in the media, particularly Cadena Ser radio, traditionally close to the Socialist Party (PSOE), following the attacks and that his government had faced "aggresssive, sectarian, anti-democratic and false" claims.
Aznar insisted the government had been "quick to inform (the electorate)
"The smoking gun of a supposed lie by the government which I led ... has
not appeared. We told the truth as far as we knew it," Aznar insisted.
UPDATE III. Bloomberg:
``What I say is: Investigate,'' Aznar told the panel during proceedings in Madrid that were aired live by Spanish broadcasters. ``I don't have a theory'' on who was behind the attacks, he said. Links between prisoners from Islamic militant groups and ETA have emerged in recent months, including meetings between the two groups in jails, Aznar said.I also wrote about that a long time ago.
UPDATE IV. The session just ended with another written statement read aloud by Aznar. It's 7.50pm; it's been 10 hours and 50 minutes, with 2 5-minute breaks (bathroom breaks, I assume!)