Tuesday, November 30, 2004

THE DAY AFTER, the press is all over Aznar's testimony at the parliamentary commission investigating the March 11 massacre. I'll be linking to several items from the English-language media.

The New York Times / IHT:
Former Prime Minister José María Aznar said in Parliament on Monday that his administration had not misled the public by suggesting almost immediately that the ETA, the Basque militant group, was responsible for the March 11 train bombings in Madrid. He added that he still believed the group might have been involved.

Testifying before the parliamentary commission investigating the attacks, Aznar offered a mixture of composure and defiance in his responses to occasionally hostile questioning about his government's handling of the attacks, which killed 191 people and wounded about 1,800.

Throughout his testimony, which lasted nearly 11 hours, he insisted that his administration initially accused the ETA because the facts at the time supported the charge, not because it was politically profitable to do so.

"The government told the truth," he said in the first appearance by a former Spanish prime minister before an investigative commission of Parliament. "The government gave out all the information that it had."

[...] Aznar's appearance Monday was dominated by recriminations about who may have manipulated the train attacks for political gain in the days separating the bombings from the election.

Members of the commission often seemed to be giving speeches rather than asking questions, and many of Aznar's responses appeared to be political jabs at his opponents rather than explanations of his actions.
Well, after eight months of hearing how so many people, sometimes the members of the commission themselves and their party colleagues, calling him "murderer", and blaming him for everything, from the 11-M itself almost to the assasination of Lincoln, I think Aznar (certainly not the friendliest, smooth, amiable person) was quite restrained.

The Guardian correspondent in Madrid goes back to his stupid dismissal as conspirazoids of anyone who dares to suggest that the possibility of a link between the Islamic terrorists who attacked and ETA shouldn't be left without investigation (scroll down to yesterday's post for some comments about this). Of course it's easy to keep the allegation when he writes "Sixteen people, mostly of Moroccan origin, have been jailed on provisional charges of mass murder or terrorism in connection with the bombings", without saying that the one that do not have Moroccan origin, but Spanish, and even some of the Moroccan themselves, were the suppliers of the explosives and the know how to make bombs using cellphones as detonators, which they had supplied also to ETA in the past. Beyond this, he writes
The former prime minister also denied that the attacks had anything to do with his support for President George Bush and the war in Iraq. "These attacks were being prepared long before the Iraq war. They were not the result of the Iraq war even though many people said so," he said.

The attacks had, however, been planned in order to change the results of elections that his party had been expected to win, he said. "They sought to overturn the electoral situation in Spain," Mr Aznar.
Reuters, does a pretty lame piece with nothing new, but prominently displays one of the myths of the political effect of the attacks:
Had ETA been responsible, it could have helped Aznar in the election by seeming to justify his hard line against the group.
If an attack by ETA would have helped Aznar's PP it wouldn't be because their hard line against the Basque terrorists would be justified. It was because of this, a couple of months before the attacks and the election:
The Spanish Socialist party damaged its already slim chances of winning the election in March yesterday after becoming embroiled in a scandal over secret contacts with the armed Basque separatist group Eta.

The scandal broke after Josep Lluís Carod-Rovira, deputy head of the regional Catalan government led by the Socialist Pasqual Maragall, admitted having met Eta leaders earlier this month.

Mr Carod-Rovira met two Eta leaders for talks in the southern French city of Perpignan three weeks ago, while he was standing in as acting leader of Catalonia's semi-autonomous government for Mr Maragall, who was abroad.

He denied reports by the conservative newspaper ABC, which broke the story, that he had tried to broker a deal which would have seen Eta pledge not to carry out any of its bomb or shooting attacks in the eastern Catalan region.

"The aim was to help contribute to the possibility that Eta might declare a ceasefire and stop its armed fight," he said. "We thought it could be of service to the cause of peace."

But Mr Carod-Rovira, who leads a Catalan separatist party that is in coalition with Mr Maragall, was forced to apologise and resign yesterday. He was kept on, however, as a member without portfolio in Mr Maragall's cabinet.

Observers said the Catalan separatist leader had failed to take into account the damage, if his secret trip became public knowledge, to the Socialists' campaign to beat the prime minister José María Aznar's rightwing People's party in March elections.

There was speculation yesterday as to who had blown the whistle on the meeting; the newspaper El Mundo pointed the finger at the Spanish military intelligence service.

The People's party's "no negotiations" line on Eta is a big vote-winner for the deputy prime minister Mariano Rajoy, Mr Aznar's chosen successor when he stands down at this election. With this in mind, the Socialist candidate, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, had been determined to avoid accusations that his party was soft on terrorism.

Mr Zapatero insisted that Mr Carod-Rovira be sacked, despite the danger that the latter's Catalan Republican Left party might withdraw its support for the regional government of Mr Maragall.

The deputy prime minister had not only demanded the sacking, but had also called on the Socialists to break their alliance in Catalonia with Mr Carod-Rovira's separatist party.

"Mr Zapatero aims to govern Spain with these sorts of companions," he said. "You cannot offer political concessions to terrorists."
Shortly after, ETA declared a partial truce for Catalonia only (Northeastern Spain), which ignited a real political firestorm.

Therefore this is why the point is not that an ETA attack would've helped Aznar's PP, but that it would have destroyed, perhaps forever, the Socialist party. Hence the need they had to spin and turn the tables around, using their media mouthpieces (SER radio, El País newspaper, CNN+ -the local version in partnership with Time Warner-, etc) for the agit-prop campaign during these fateful days, which I have mentioned in the past.

The Associated Press:
Most commission members bristled at Aznar's claim that the attack was intended to influence the election. Socialist lawmaker Alvaro Cuesta called it "a tremendous irresponsibility" and a sour-grapes attempt by the losing party to "delegitimize the election" and undermine the seven-month old government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The Socialists deny any link between the bombings and their victory.
Perhaps they should only listen to the terrorists themselves. By the way, Cuesta, the commissioner for the Socialist party, made the most hilarious moment of the whole day:
Told by Cuesta that President Bush was more cooperative in his testimony before a similar Sept. 11 commission, Aznar retorted:

"The president of the United States, Mr. Bush, had ... the extraordinary good fortune that his opponents never attempted to hold him responsible for the attacks."
Remember, Cuesta is in the same party as Bush-hating Zapatero and his pals. By the way, how the hell could he know how was Bush's testimony to the 9/11 panel... if it was a SECRET testimony? Back then they had been criticizing Bush precisely for being a secret testimony, for Pete's sake! (while failing to mention that Clinton testified in secret too, of course). Actually Aznar's answer was even better; besides that, he said "I can understand that the wish to mend relationships with someone you've demonized on the streets and other places is very intense, but hearing you praising Bush and portraying him as a real world leader is really admirable. If you say it louder, perhaps you'll be luckier than you've been so far." He was referring to the unsuccessful atempts by Zapatero to get on the phone with Bush and the recent visit to Crawford by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. Heh.

The Daily Telegraph:
Mr Aznar said that during the days between the March 11 attacks and the March 14 election, "I was trying to find out the truth and arrest the criminals while others were taking advantage to try to win the elections".
On the blogosphere, John Chappell at IberianNotes has an absolutely great post:
Aznar was devastating. He laid out the facts clean, hard, and straight, and carried out a fearsome assault on the media of communication, especially the leftist radio network SER, for at the very least irresponsibly spreading rumors between March 11 and March 14. Aznar looked extremely good, though his enemies are already smearing him personally as arrogant, stubborn, mean, and nasty. I cannot help thinking that his performance will win the PP a few points, and this couldn't come at a worse time for Zap; Aznar looked strong and professional, and Zap and the Socialists have finally worn out their honeymoon.

[...] Aznar went over the timetable of the events of the morning of March 11 after the bombs went off at three Madrid train stations just after 8 AM. Before 9 AM the Socialist Party had incorrectly attributed the attacks to ETA in a public statement. The president of the Basque Country did the same at 9:35. The minister of Interior did not attribute the attacks to ETA until a press conference at 1:30 PM, and he did so based on intelligence the government had received from the security authorities, which soon turned out to be wrong. At 4:45 PM the minister of Interior informed Aznar that the van (which turned out to be the one the Islamic terrorists had used, and was the first clue that ETA was perhaps not responsible) had been found; it was then searched, evidence was found, and this information was made public by the Minister of Interior at 8:20 PM. The government contacted opposition political parties and the media of communication before the 8:20 statement was made. Opposition political parties and communications media, especially the radio network SER, then proceeded to go nuts. In the early morning of the next day, Friday March 12, the autopsies demonstrated there had been no suicide bombers, and at 2:40 AM an unexploded bomb was found in the wreckage. Analysis of the bomb and the other contents of the backpack it was hidden in became the decisive clue that made it clear the bombings were an Al Qaeda job. Arrests of the perpetrators began. There is no evidence the government covered up anything. There is no evidence that the initial, incorrect assumption that ETA was guilty, which everyone from Carod-Rovira to Ibarretxe jumped to, was in anything but good faith. There is a great deal of evidence showing the government acted responsibly in dealing with the tragedy. The proof is that they found out who really did it within a day and made the first arrests only a day later, that society did not fall apart, that the elections went on as scheduled, that the PP lost, and that they participated in a democratic transition of power, only Spain's fourth ever in history.
He also translates some excerpts of Aznar's opening statement. It's a great post that I do encourage you to read in full.

UPDATE. It's not in English, but Enzo Reale at 1972 has a great post in Italian about this, too.