Thursday, January 25, 2007

March 11th....Let The Trial Begin

It is now confirmed that the trial of those accused of committing the Madrid train bombings in 2004 will begin on February 15th, almost 3 years after the attack. The trial could last for 7 or 8 months with approximately 600 witnesses set to appear.

El Mundo and the conspiracy theorists around the Peones Negros were surprisingly happy with the announcement; given the efforts they have made to bring down the whole process. The main reason for their happiness was the decision by the tribunal to permit the appearance of 3 members of ETA as witnesses. There was also some glee over an order to repeat the explosives analysis on the samples recovered from the different sites where either bombs exploded, or where quantities of unexploded explosive were recovered.

In reality, it is not very likely that their dreams are likely to be realised. The 3 ETA members who will appear were all in prison at the time of the bombings, two of them were arrested shortly before the 11th March attack as they transported a van load of explosives to Madrid. The other ETA member has been in prison much longer and is being summoned because his name was found on a piece of paper in possession of an Islamist linked to one of the accused. There is no evidence that connects them in any way with the Madrid bombings.

What has happened is that the defence of one of the accused seems to have decided to adopt the arguments of the conspiracy theorists, and has called for the appearance of the ETA members presumably to try and link ETA to the attack. It seems unlikely that any of the ETA witnesses will stand in the witness box and say “After we made the bombs we gave them to Zapatero to place on the trains”. Nor does it seem likely that they have anything to say that will help the accused, claiming that you think someone else was involved is not much of a defence if you can’t produce any facts to back it up.

This is why the conspiracy theorists should not necessarily be so happy, the mixture of fantasies, insinuations and speculation that they have floated with so much energy has not been designed to withstand the detailed examination it is likely to receive if someone accused of multiple murder adopts it as his defence. Ask a conspiracy theorist to give you some hard facts to back up the allegations they make, and prepare to be disappointed by the answer. Also, the fact that the trial date has been set means that the judges who will preside over the trial have accepted the instruction of the case as being valid.

The explosives issue is also interesting, because the conspiracy theorists have always claimed there was an attempt to cover up the type of explosive that was really used. The fresh tests have to be carried out before the trial begins, and will be carried out in the presence of experts from all sides, with the whole testing process being filmed. It seems an excellent idea, designed to dispel any doubts about the outcome, although you can almost bet that if the tests confirm the analysis carried out in the aftermath of the bombings then the conspiracy theorists will start claiming that the samples have been manipulated.

The trial is an important event, and not just because of the magnitude of the Madrid bombings. The accused are on trial, and so to some extent is a judicial system that has shown itself to be too prone to political manipulation. The thorough examination of the evidence should still take place, despite the predictable attempts of some to convert the trial into a political circus. A guilty verdict for those accused will not mean that the campaign to implicate ETA and the government in the bombings will disappear, but it will almost certainly be the start of the downward slope for those who have so shamelessly exploited the bombings in an attempt to get political revenge for the result of the elections that followed. I will write extensively on the trial, either here or on a nearby blog - I think the significance of the event merits the effort.

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