Tuesday, October 03, 2006

March 11th....Even Terrorists Have Cockroaches

The last couple of weeks have demonstrated why it can be useful sometimes to let events develop a bit before writing about them. This is certainly the case with the recent story that emerged from the newspaper El Mundo continuing with its quest to link ETA to the Madrid train bombings.

The exclusive this time was that a police report linking ETA to those accused of perpetrating the attacks had been falsified on government orders to remove the references to ETA. The original report, a description which has to be used with some care in this case, was said to have been written in March 2005. It concerned the discovery of boric acid during the search of a property in Lanzarote where one of those accused for the bombings, Hasan Haski, was living.

The report was produced by three members of the scientific police. Unsure of what to make of the presence of this substance in the property that had been searched, they checked for previous cases where it had been found, and sure enough found that it had also been discovered in an ETA safe house in Madrid in 2001. They also mentioned a case where it was found in the residence of an individual who has subsequently been identified as "anti-system". Our experts speculated in their report on the possibility that there may be some relation between the discovery in ETA's safe house and the events of the 11th March, although no evidence of any kind was produced to establish such a relationship.

The key point of El Mundo's story was that this speculative connection based on the common possession of boric acid was removed from the final report presented to the investigating judge. So El Mundo used this difference to accuse the government and senior police officers of having manipulated an official report, and a legal accusation of falsifying documentation was duly presented. All of this happened on the 21st September.

Naturally it was a cause of great excitement for campaigners on behalf of the conspiracy theories, proof that the government was determined to conceal the role of ETA in the Madrid bombings. The government responded to the accusation by saying that the first report prepared was not the official version, but merely a draft which was revised by a senior officer who decided that the speculative references to a relationship with ETA should be removed.

For anyone who has not followed the link above to the Wikipedia article on boric acid, and who is unsure what it might be, let me help. The main uses of boric acid appear to be as an antiseptic, an insecticide or a flame retardant. In other words, it is a completely legal product and can be bought over the counter at any chemist in Spain. Many commenters on blogs over the last couple of weeks have assured that it is very useful for treating foot odour. More seriously, there are no known cases of it being used in terrorist activities, it appears to have some uses in the fireworks industry but is not recognised for its explosive potential.

The fact that it is so widespread means that there could potentially be hundreds of thousands of homes around Spain where boric acid could be found, quite legally. All of this makes the suggestion in the supposedly suppressed report seem all the more speculative, if you cannot show that the substance is related to terrorist activity then what sense does it make to relate different cases on the basis of it's presence. It's not hard to understand why such speculation was removed from what is supposed to be a scientific report.

The argument raged over the two versions of the report, and then at the end of last week events took an unexpected and quite dramatic turn. The case had fallen onto the desk of judge Baltasar Garzon, who rapidly called in the three police scientists to declare on the accusations made by El Mundo. Then came the bombshell, Garzon issued a judicial summary alleging that it was the three specialists who were potentially guilty of a crime of falsifying official documentation. It turned out that their initial version of the report was indeed rewritten by their senior officer, after they had refused to do it themselves. Then, strangely enough, in July this year (16 months after issuing the initial report), the three specialists decided to reissue it as if it was an official version, even passing a copy to another senior officer who was invited to give it his seal of approval. The amended, but official version, of this report had of course already been in possession of the investigating judge for some time.

What motivated this odd move to reissue a rejected version of the report is still awaiting clarification, although the publication by El Mundo of this version came very shortly after claims by a former senior police officer , and now member of the European Parliament for the Partido Popular, that he knew of a report that linked ETA to the bombings. Whether this report is the one he was referring to is still not clear, if that was the case it would certainly be a report that would never have reached his desk when he was still in the service. Yet again, questions are being raised about the extent to which El Mundo is starting to interfere in the judicial process, rather than simply report on it.

The drama is not finished yet, and in the process the highly politicised nature of the Spanish judicial system is being revealed. Today a court has declared that Garzon is not the competent judge to deal with the case, and that it should go to the local courts of Madrid; which is what the conspiracy theorists were hoping for in the belief (possibly justified) that the judge who takes the case will be sympathetic to them. Judge Garzon has already been included as part of the great conspiracy for his refusal to swallow the manoeuvre, and the supervisory judicial institutions have refused to defend him from attack, split as they are between conservative and non-conservative wings.

The idea that the result of the case simply depends on the judge who takes it is a little worrying, perhaps even more worrying are the accounts of the testimony that our three police specialists presented to Garzon. It is reported that the specialists, one of whom apparently specialises in car paint, admitted having obtained much of the information they offered in the hearing from Internet. Scientific rigour at its best, and this story is far from over. El Mundo, as always so concerned about the highest ethical standards of journalism, referred to the report this morning as the document which relates Hasan Haski to ETA. As always with the conspiracy theorists, once the lie is in circulation it continues to do the rounds.


Anonymous said...

Pedro J. Ramirez, Ramirez El Bueno.....

Graeme said...

If lies and manipulation are what make someone good, then he's good!

Jose said...

No more lies and manipulation, unfortunately, than the amount found every day in EL PAIS or Público...You gotta give'em that!

Graeme said...

I love this argument - "If a newspaper I like tells lies it doesn't matter as long as there is another newspaper somewhere in the world that also tells lies". It's no excuse.

Tom said...

Jose - Graeme put the work in to find specific details of stories which were fabricated by El Mundo for party political reasons. If you can identify, with references, similarly incriminating stories (and not just editorials which lean a certain way: all newspapers have them) in El País or Público then you should add them to your comment. In other words, put up or shut up.