Last week a court in the Basque Country convicted four members of the Guardia Civil of torturing two members of ETA. It was ruled that the victims were beaten up after being arrested and subjected to an ordeal which included being ducked in a river. The ETA members concerned were subsequently convicted of being the authors of the bombing at Madrid Barajas Airport in 2007, which killed two people and marked the beginning of the end for the last attempt at reaching a negotiated solution for terrorism in the Basque Country.
The accused officers claimed that the injuries suffered by the victims were self inflicted, but independent medical reports were consistent with the claim of mistreatment and the court accepted that torture had taken place, sentencing four of the accused to prison sentences. It's very unusual in Spain to get a conviction for police mistreatment of prisoners, above all if the case has any connection to terrorism. The Spanish government has a long standing policy of claiming that all accusations of torture form part of the training of ETA members for when they are arrested, the implication being that all such accusations must be treated as false. This case was no exception, interior minister Rubalcaba made a statement at the time of the arrests denying any possibility of torture, a statement which has mysteriously disappeared from the ministry website following last week's verdict.
In effect this automatic defence by the government against any accusations of police violence or mistreatment gives the police carte blanche to do more or less what they feel like doing. Those of us who lived in the UK during the cases of the Guldford Four or the Birmingham Six know only too well where tolerance of such actions eventually lead. To the conviction of innocent people. There are too many who will defend the actions of the officers concerned, and even claim that the conviction is a blow to the struggle against terrorism. It's even quite possible that an appeal to a higher court will find a judge who is not prepared to accept the idea that members of the security services break the law. I for one am very glad to live in a country where torture is a crime, even if it is difficult to obtain a conviction.