When democracies fight terrorism with terrorism

18 March 2004
Only in en
In the mid-1980s in Spain, the state-sponsored paramilitary group GAL (Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberacion) waged the so-called "Dirty War" against ETA and Basque refugees in the French Basque countries in order to combat terrorism committed by ETA: Once these actions became public they had wide repercussions on the young Spanish democracy, affecting not only subsequent governments but also the judiciary, the military and the Spanish public. This interview with Paddy Woodworth, author of Dirty War, Clean Hands: ETA, the GAL and Spanish democracy outlines the political and psychological aftermath of the GAL operations on the Spanish state: Answering terrorism with state terrorism, Woodworth argues, erodes the moral fabric of the entire state and can therefore never be used as a legitimate means of defence.

Spanish public opinion on GAL

Michael Standaert: Can we begin by talking about the amount of support inside Spain, outside of the Basque region of course, for the operations of GAL – in the 1980s?

Paddy Woodworth: This is hard to measure, since there were not many opinion polls. The very few opinion polls that existed on the subject suggested that a majority of Spanish public opinion was opposed to the GAL operations. About sixty to sixty-five percent opposed, then there was a big segment of “I don’t know”, and maybe only ten to fifteen percent in favor. Obviously an opinion poll like that is not reliable anyway, because very few people are going to say they support it. The anecdotal evidence was different, namely that many Spaniards were certainly ready to turn a blind eye, until they began to realize that there was a lot of corruption involved as well.

People seemed to be thinking that “maybe this is something that needs to be done” but when they saw that it was being done badly and that innocent people were being killed and clumsily, and these killers were making a lot of money, public opinion began to turn against it in a major way. Throughout the period, one of the things I think Basque nationalists do not accept – which I think they are demonstrably wrong about – is that writers such as Javier Praderas from El Pais always said, this is wrong, this has got to stop. And he wrote very elegantly about it. When I spoke to him, I asked “Did the Socialist Party ever admit it to you” he said “Well, no they never admitted it to me” but he said “Frankly, from their body language I had no doubt that they were involved”, which is a very strong thing to say about his friends.

Public opinion was mixed. There was a small group of intellectuals, politicians and some people in the judiciary, who took a strong line against it from the beginning -also publicly. Very few people openly supported it, but I think they liked the ambiguity that the government’s own statements reflect. Felipe Gonzalez1 said that “Democracy is defended in the sewers as well as in the salons; it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches rats.” There is a whole lexicon of those sort of declarations. There is another one, “Certain things can not be done with flowers.”

The political cover-up

M.S: Did nobody seeanything wrong with the fact that GAL was using tactics similar to ETA’s own terrorist tactics to combat terrorism?

P.W: I think there are a number of factors to be considered here. At the beginning, directly after Franco people felt generally frightened of a military coup. They also felt they had to change. To defeat ETA they had to get the French sanctuary “cleaned out” as it were, and this seemed to be the only way to do it. If you are asking about Spanish public opinion, there was no groundswell of public opinion while the GAL were operating that would have caused concern to the Socialists.

One of the pieces of anecdotal evidence I used in my book was a Socialist MP who thought the GAL was a very bad thing, and believed the government was not involved. Most people did not know, people might have suspected it – but he believed they were not involved, thought they were just renegade policemen. What really shocked him was when he went back to his constituency and people would slap him on the back and say “You are doing a great job in the Basque country” and “GAL is not such a bad idea” and he would say we have nothing to do with it and they would say “Yeah, yeah of course you have nothing to do with it, but still it is a great idea, we are behind you.” I think that was probably quite widespread.

The other thing, that is very important to say, I praise the Spanish judiciary and the Spanish public for the fact that they did go a very long way toward investigating the GAL, much more for example than the British have investigated into the Loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. But it is important to recognize that there were reasons for this cover-up: Gonzalez and the Socialists had been in power since 1982, so in the elections of 1993 they had been in power for eleven years. For eight of those years they had an absolute majority. They were very arrogant and corrupt on many levels, not just about the GAL.

In 1993, the opposition, this reconstructed right-wing party, the Partido Popular, had every reason to expect to win the elections. Gonzalez is a very clever politician. He basically, before the elections, said “We have done a lot of things wrong” – not the Dirty War, he never said that, but he said there has been a lot of corruption – we are going to clean things up. The slogan in 1982 had been a very simple one of El Cambio, “change”. So the slogan in 1993 was El Cambio del Cambio. “Change of the change”. In other words, do not hand over power to the right, you know that they live in the past, let us clean ourselves up. To prove his good faith, he did the most extraordinary thing – he recruited some of the judges who had been investigating the GAL as parliamentary candidates. And they agreed, which raises some questions, they had to leave the judiciary to do it obviously. One of them was Baltasar Garzon2
Garzon said at the time that Gonzalez had seduced him over dinner, and Gonzalez is a very seductive man, and persuaded him that this was his opportunity to clean things up from the inside, that it would be carte blanche, implying that he had nothing to do with the GAL but that Garzon could reach as high as he liked otherwise. The Socialist party was very shaken by this because the people that had been hounding on them were now running as their candidates. It was a very successful tactic and they won the election.

José María Aznar and his party were outraged, and the right began to say that these guys will use any means necessary and these guys would be in power for thirty years. The maneuver with Garzon did not work very well because (Gonzalez) did not make Garzon a minister and actually gave him very little power, made him a senior bureaucrat and not a senior minister, and within a year Garzon had left the government, gone back to the judiciary. At this point, the two policemen come to talk to him. So Garzon’s investigation was always slightly tainted. Was it revenge against the Socialists for not making him a minister? So Partido Popular, who in the normal course of events, might have been expected to be even more permissive about a Dirty War, began to say, “What is the biggest stick we have got to beat this guy with?” Gonzalez. “The biggest stick we have got is the GAL.”

M.S: Has the Partido Popular used that stick after coming to power?

P.W: No. This is one of the things. As soon as they came to power in 1996, they put a break on the inquiries. They began to restrict documents that they had previously screamed should be released. But the investigations and the Supreme Court overruled them. The investigations went ahead.

The price of the Dirty War

M.S: How much damage do you think this has caused to Spanish democracy?

P.W: I think a great deal of damage. If you are going to be completely pragmatic about it and say human rights can be suspended in these cases – which I do not – I would say even then the price paid for getting rid of the French sanctuary of ETA was too high. For that section of Basque society, that believed in ETA’s notion that Spain is not a real democracy but a facade of dictatorship – these operations were a gift to ETA. “Look, these people say they are democrats? They are shooting us in the street. They are shooting innocent children. This is worse than what happened in the last years of Franco.”

Essentially, if you talk to anyone who supports ETA today who grew up during that period – you know, people say is it not extraordinary that people who grew up in a democracy, who never experienced dictatorship would join ETA – they would say, “But yeah, we grew up under the GAL.” I think in that sense it was terribly damaging. An argument which Pradera also made in El Pais, is that more damaging than the GAL itself was the terribly corrosive cover-up. We all know politicians lie, but to lie about something so serious, in addition to the obstruction of justice and the erosion of the independence of the judiciary – all those things were terribly, terribly damaging.

On a more positive note, though not entirely for good reasons, the GAL was investigated very thoroughly. It shows the extraordinary stability of a very young democracy. Obviously, Spanish democracy has taken deep roots. But these were titanic battles between sections of the judiciary. Internal battles in the judiciary, and sometimes between the judiciary and the government. There were times when people talked about the institutions of state collapsing but it never came to that. The investigations have not, in my view, gone far enough. But they have gone very far.
One of the disturbing things about the outcome, which is something ETA uses for propaganda again and again, is that while people were convicted, and in some cases given very heavy sentences, often they were quite rapidly issued pardons. The government has the power to do that, but it is interfering with the judiciary.

Terrorism vs. state terrorism: Spiral of violence

M.S: How deep did you get into investigating ETA? Or how deep were you allowed to get access to the organization? Both in the political wing and the armed wing?

P.W: In the political wing, lots But in the military wing I have never known anyone. In fact I have had lots of people who said they were ex-members of ETA, sometimes they would be in the political wing, sometimes they would come right out in opposition to ETA.

I approached a leading member of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna when they were in Dublin at a press conference. We had an argument because he was seeking someone to come out in solidarity for him because a member of their central committee was being sent to jail for distributing an ETA video. I said to him, “Look, I will write about this, but our readers are much more interested in why an Irish tourist was injured by an ETA bomb the previous week, and our readers have to know how the freedom of the Basque country is being advanced by breaking a little boy’s leg.” He tried to wrap up the press conference, and I said “It is not going to look any better for you if you do not answer the questions about your own situation.” And he gave a sort of Gerry Adams response, “Of course we regret all victims but this is a conflict, and in a military conflict there will be victims.” We started talking afterwards and there was reasonably good chemistry between us – sort of a journalistic head to head with a politician, but one of those ones which is not actually personally antagonistic – and we got talking about terrorism and the nature of terrorism.
I stated why I believed ETA was a terrorist organization because it was using violence when other democratic channels were obviously open to it. He obviously disagreed. I said however that I was also very interested in state terrorism and I actually believe that state terrorism in some cases is worse because a terrorist is being consistent with his own beliefs, whereas a state terrorist is saying they are democrats but then they go on breaking democratic rules about human rights. So I said, that I would like to interview people who have been victims of the GAL. And he said he would see what he could do and put me in touch with the lawyer who represented many of these people.

I interviewed many people, really anyone I wanted to on that side. And some people I had not even expected to meet, some people just popped up, particularly while I was on the French side. I dealt with it by never asking anyone if they were members of ETA. I sometimes did, I think, depending on their circumstances. But that really was not what I was trying to establish. What I used to do is to make it always very clear to them that I was not an ETA sympathizer, on the contrary; but that I wanted to hear their side of the story and that I thought the Dirty War had been a very bad thing in democratic terms.

At the end of the interview I would always say, “All right, you have talked about your situation, obviously I understand that it is appalling to see your wife shot in front of you,” but then I would say, “How would you feel about the wife of a Guardia Civil who is in the same situation as you are?” That was an attempt to establish a sort of distance or to give them an opportunity to respond if they wanted to. Usually again, they would give the response that they regret that there are victims on the other side, that this is not something they want, but point to the fact that Spain would not grant them their independence. They would always sort of flip out a bit.

M.S: It seems like the same response on either side is being used to justify the continuing violence…

P.W: Actually, one of the very disturbing things I found with thefew state terrorists whom I did get to interview – and if you look at the comments of other ones who are on the record elsewhere – was that there was no remorse anywhere. I am not saying the ETA people or the people close to ETA were remorseful of not, I do not know for a fact that anyone I interviewed was actually a member of ETA at that time. But many of them were very open in the sense that I asked one Basque woman whose husband had been killed, “How do you feel about the use of armed struggle today?” and she said “There is no other way to achieve the freedom of our country.”
One of the strange things is they actually talk as if they hold the high moral ground. They do see something regrettable in what they are doing, but they do not see anything wrong with it. They think they are the people that make the sacrifices, and that these people are the unfortunate victims, more or less fortunate depending on how close they are to the seniority in the security forces
But anyone who decides to take up arms in a clandestine struggle – there are some people who are purely thugs or psychopaths, but they are actually a small minority, and certainly from my experience with Ireland and knowing people who have been through the IRA – they do know the moral issues that are involved.

ETA and Spanish politics today

M.S: What about the situation today? Do you see any hope for the pattern of repression, action, repression, action being broken?

P.W: Unfortunately I do not see that pattern being broken. What I do see is that the Partido Popular, partly because the positions they had taken in order to dislodge Gonzalez from power, came to power pretty clear with what Aznar says, “Within the law, but with all of the law.” So the full force of the law, but nothing beyond that. But of course what Aznar has done is keep changing the law. So that I think we can see, without being alarmist, a judicial offensive, not just against ETA, which would be perfectly reasonable, but a judicial offensive against ETA’s satellite organizations as the government sees it. Some which may be much less closely connected to ETA than the government alleges.

What I find quite disturbing in recent years is the blurring of lines between judiciary and government. That the government moves to ban Batasuna3, and the very week it does that, Garzon decides to judicially suspend Batasuna. They are two separate things, but to happen in the same week… I mean it seems a bit too much of a coincidence. There may be reasons to suspend Batasuna, but the worrying thing about a lot of the judiciary work being done is that huge charge sheets are being brought, involving sometimes hundreds of people, often dozens of people. And people are jailed and not allowed out on bail for six or nine months, some of them are still in jail. Then nothing happens, because the evidence – the hard evidence – is not there.

To give the clearest example, quite often the Spanish would insist on someone being extradited from France. When they were extradited, the Spanish could do nothing because they did not have any evidence against them. That is not what I am talking about happening now. What I am talking about happening now is something similar, where Garzon, for example, closed a newspaper – I think it is now six years ago, Egin – which was undoubtedly close to the thinking of ETA. It was where all the ETA statements appeared for the first time, its politics were closely aligned with ETA’s politics, and certainly Batasuna’s politics. He closed it, he said, not because of the opinions it was expressing, but because it was an integral part of the terrorist organization. This is the central argument about Batasuna and, Basque language and cultural groups. They are saying it is not the opinions they express – that they believe in freedom of expression – but that in fact they are an integral part of the terrorist organization. What does this mean in the case of the newspaper? It means that either its finances are being used to launder terrorist money, or coded instructions are being sent to ETA’s units through the paper. Those are the allegations that Garzon made about the newspaper. Six years later – no proof. No case. Maybe the case will come to trial at some stage.

M.S: Will they let them operate, start up the paper again?

P.W: What they did was start another paper called Gara which still is in existence today. Along with Gara another newspaper started called Egunkaria. Egunkaria is – in the view of most Basques, certainly most Basque nationalists and many of whom would be very hostile to ETA –Egunkaria was a pretty broad church. There were radical nationalists writing for Egunkaria and involved in its editorial council, but there were also people like Bernardo Atxaga, author of very highly regarded novels like Obabakoak [The Lone Man], who is a very prestigious Basque novelist. He would have never written for Gara. It was a hundred percent Basque language paper, a forum for everyone who writes in Basque. To everybody’s amazement, another judge about six months ago4 said Egunkaria was done as well. And they did not close downGara, although people were half-expecting Gara to be closed down.

The editor of the paper claims he was tortured. It was a bizarre, almost Orwellian moment. As soon as he was released he made allegations of torture. People I trust [however] tell me that he was not associated with ETA. He is a middle-aged man. I think a lot of kids who are arrested on the street automatically claim to have been tortured. They are told by ETA to do it. And yet there seems to be reasonable evidence that he has been beaten up, which should at least been taking into account. So what does the minister of justice say in this situation? “We are going to sue this man for impugning the honor of the police.” [Laughs] So, first you are tortured, then you are sued.

Let me make one thing absolutely clear. The primary cause of violence in the Basque country is ETA. ETA is not a force of nature. It is not something that has to happen because of the political prospects. ETA, just like the IRA, can chose to have a cease-fire or not to have a cease-fire. I think they were absolutely crazy not to continue the 1998 cease-fire. They got more support politically than they ever had before. Basque nationalism was very united. Moving towards a purely political plan for greater independence and they just threw it out of the window. Not only that, they have been going back to war on their terms, they have selected more and more disturbing targets from the democratic point of view. They have been focusing on journalists, academics, judges, politicians – and particularly politicians who could have acted as negotiators and bridges.

It is as though ETA is literally taking a scorched earth policy. There are theories that ETA is now dominated by very young people because the old people have all been arrested, and they have very little political formation. And also there is this sort of Marxist-Leninist core in ETA, which has never existed in the IRA. So these people are prepared, they are not interested in negotiation, they are interested in destabilizing the state. You could go even further and say there is a curious coincidence of interest between ETA and the Madrid government. I have heard on very good authority, that senior people in the Partido Popular actually say, that it is not a bad thing that ETA still exists as long as it does not kill too many people, because if these guys who were so obviously bad would not exist, they would have to negotiate with democratic Basque nationalism, which could lead to the breakup of the state. That is very disturbing. If I was in ETA, I would be very disturbed by that.

GAL’s dirty tactics

M.S: Can we go back to the GAL? How did it collapse and who were some of the players?

P.W: A group of mercenaries are sent to the French Basque region, toward the end of the Dirty War period; Portuguese mercenaries, badly paid. They are badly paid because one of the things the Spanish police kept doing was they would draw down, for example, $50,000 in state funds and then only spend $10,000 on the mercenaries and the rest they would spend in the casino, sometimes with the mercenaries. This particular group of mercenaries was sent to Bayonne where they met a French policemen – apparently he has never been identified, the Spanish policeman has been identified in court and convicted, because one of the mercenaries gave very clear evidence in the end.

According to them, the French policemen told them to shoot everyone with beards. Go to this bar and shoot everyone with beards. So they go to this bar and find there are men with beards, but there are also women and children, so they leave. They go back to Spain. These are actually mercenaries with some sort of principals. And when they reach the Spanish border, the Spanish police ask why they have not heard anything on the radio, no one has been shot. And they said, “We could not do it. There were women and children around.” And Amedo said, “The women are also members of ETA.” So they go back three days later, to a different bar, the Matxikotte bar. So they arrived and found that the bar was not so packed, several women there, a couple men. A two year old girl and a five year old girl. According to his court statement, one mercenary said to the other, “What about the children?” And supposedly the leading mercenary said, “Let us hit the children too. ETA would not hesitate in a situation like this.” So that to me, establishes the moral equivalence between state terrorism and revolutionary terrorism. They are actually saying, we do what ETA does.

M.S: What year was this?

P.W: That was in 1986. At the very end of the book, I interview Rafeal Vera who was the deputy interior minister during much of this period, the only senior Socialist politician who agreed to be interviewed. A very bright man. A very charming man. And I think probably the only really coherent state terrorist among all of them. I think he knew what he was doing. He was, at the time I interviewed him, facing charges for a kidnapping, the Segundo Marey5 kidnapping, for which of course he claimed he had no responsibility.

I talked to him about the debate in Spain in recent years about torture, because ETA were accusing -often with some justice – Spanish security forces of torturing and mistreating their members. To this day the European Parliament committee for the prevention of torture has said there is cause for concerns, so has Amnesty International. I do not think it is nearly as bad as it used to be.

M.S: So you confronted him, and what did he say?

P.W: The issue then became that ETA was accusing the state of torture but public opinion in Spain began to say, “Well ETA also tortures and ETA tortures systematically because ETA has a regular policy of kidnapping people.” If you are kidnapped by ETA, usually for a ransom, sometimes for political reasons, you are held in the most appalling conditions. There was a case of one guy who was held in a space about three times the size of a coffin for six months. So this sort of slightly new idea emerged, and human rights groups were saying as well that this constitutes torture. There is no other way you can describe it.

So the GAL kidnapped Segundo Marey, and he was held in a freezing sheep hut blindfolded for ten days, he had nothing to do with ETA, he had no training, he was a middle aged commercial traveler. I said “Surely that was also terrorism.” And Rafael Vera said, “Yes, I have to accept that as terrorism.”

M.S: Was the kidnapping of Segundo Marey the first GAL action?

P.W: It was the first acknowledged one. They kidnapped Joxean Lasa and Joxi Zabala6 about two weeks earlier . What happened to Lasa and Zabala was that they “disappeared”. Everyone thought that it was a GAL action but they did not put out any clear communiqué. There appeared to be a communiqué in Alicante in the South of Spain, but nobody knew of the connection at the time. So the sort of “debut” of the GAL in public was the Segundo Marey kidnapping. They kidnapped him and brought him to the Spanish side of the border. He did not know what was going on and was absolutely terrified. They held him for ten days and he thought they were going to shoot him every day. According to his own account – I was at the trial, and he was a very broken man at the trial – he said that the day they actually released him, they still had him blindfolded and one of the guys said, “Why don’t we shoot him anyway?” and the other policeman, said “Ah, we’re not going to shoot you, it’s all right.” But the fact that they were saying this matters. And this was the middle of winter. The Pyrenees is very cold in the winter. They put him back on the French side and left him sitting beside a tree with the blindfold still on. He never took off the blindfold for the couple hours he was there. The GAL put in a call to the police station. When the police found him, he had this communiqué in his breast pocket, which is the first GAL communiqué saying that “For every attack by ETA we will carry out an attack.” Which they never did, in fact. So that was their debut.

M.S: So was the GAL systematically organized, or did it first develop by itself and then finally become operated by government forces?

P.W: The word organization is slightly problematic in that ETA is clearly an organization. There are members of ETA. From what we know now from court records, from people who were active in the GAL, it seems the GAL was an initiative that came from a number of centers within the Socialist administration and within the security forces. One historian I interviewed described it as a question of supply and demand. The demand came from the government and the supply was already there among the security forces. There had been a previous dirty war, but it was just much more uncontrolled people in the security forces who the state certainly turned a blind eye to.

M.S:So this was more vigilantism than anything else?

P.W: Yes, almost. One of their people would get killed – they go out and shoot someone. But it did not seem to be a campaign with a strategy. Basically, go back to the Socialists winning an absolute majority in 1982. This is a historic shift, the first time since the 1930s that the left takes power from the right in Spain, peacefully, in an election. Not surprisingly, the Socialists thought ETA would get them some sort of de facto truce. There was a new government, a democratic government, unlike the previous right-wing government between Franco and the Socialists, this is the first government with clean hands. Hence the phrase “Clean Hands.” It is the first government with no links to the dictatorship.

Instead of giving them the de facto truce, some sort of breathing space where something new could have been negotiated, within a week of Gonzales being elected Prime Minister, ETA killed a general. He was the commander of a division near Madrid, named after one of the major Civil War battles, and at the time a very Francoist unit. It had come within an inch of participating in the attempted coup d’ êtat a year earlier. The killing was a terribly destabilizing incident. A couple of weeks later ETA shot a few Guardia Civil. And they kept killing at a similar rate from what they had been doing under the right-wing government. The Socialists, and I think – this is not to excuse the GAL but to put them in context – the Socialist interior minister and his deputy Vera, found their main job in the first few months in the public eye was attending funerals. ETA was shooting members of the security forces nearly every week. They went to the funerals and found very angry army officers and police officers who often screamed at them and called them traitors. They were also regarded by these police officers and army officers as deeply suspect because Socialist Party equals Marxist equals Communist. All that Francoist baggage was still in the minds of these people. So they were genuinely worried that there might be another coup d’ êtat.

The French involvement into the GAL operations

M.S: Could you finally talk about France’s involvement into the GAL operations?

P.W: The Socialists received a second shock because they assumed that now that they are a democratic government and there is a Socialist government in France at the time under François Mitterrand, so surely the French are going to begin to cooperate and extradite members of ETA who are living openly at this stage in the French Basque country. They had refugee status. The French government, when Franco was in Spain, regarded ETA as freedom fighters, which arguably they were. And France also has this sense of being a land of exile for human rights victims, etc.. So there were several hundred, possibly more than a thousand, several thousand if you include wives and children of the so-called refugee or exile community living in the Basque country of France, many of whom are active members of ETA. When the Socialist interior minister went to meet his French opposite number, he gave his French opposite a list of people they were interested in having extradited, to start at the top and work down. The French said this was old propaganda and that they should look at the people in Spain and not in France.

So they found that the French were not interested in helping. It does appear that Mitterrand himself understood the situation Gonzales was in, and this is speculation, but they certainly had a number of conversations, and it seems Mitterrand maybe said to Gonzales “We have a problem, these guys are very popular in the French Basque country.” Unlike the IRA in the Irish Republic, they kept their noses completely clean. There were no shootouts. They would help old ladies across the street. They did a certain amount of unarmed vigilantism. If there were robberies in their areas, they were regarded as the people to go to. So you have to understand that one of the things about terrorists is that they are not monsters, and oftentimes when they are not carrying out terrorist activities they can be quite good neighbors.

French Basque public opinion – and French public opinion – was against extraditing these people to Spain. There still was a mistaken idea in France that basically the Spanish were under a dictatorship. It seems then that the GAL began to operate with two objectives. One was to decapitate ETA, to take out its leaders. The interesting thing is that there is a military intelligence document that was produced in the summer before the GAL began to operate, and this has been authenticated, where they drew up a game plan, and one of the things they say is that the decapitation argument does not work because they know that if they kill one, many more will reappear, a hydra situation so to speak.

There is a visible shift in French public opinion over the three years of the GAL operations. At the beginning they are all outraged at the Spanish police for crossing borders and carrying out appalling attacks on the poor refugees. Two or three years later the mayors of the small towns are saying completely different things, saying that if the ETA campaign stopped this would not happen, and if ETA was not there this would not be happening. So by 1986 you have a complete shift in French policy and they begin extraditing. In a lot of cases they used a so-called “procedure of urgency” where they did not even have to extradite through the legal system, something that dates from 1946-47, and the French government could simply expel people onto another border. So they started pouring people across the border. Dozens of people at first, eventually hundreds of people. I do not think it was in my interview with him, but in another interview I quoted, Vera says he had nothing to do with the Dirty War, but that if you look at the pattern of extradition, that he would have to say the Dirty War helped.

Even then there were these ambiguous statements from local politicians that if ETA was not there this would not be happening. Towards the end, the civilian casualty rate was going up. We do not know about Mitterrand’s participation. One of the things is that the Spanish side has been investigated pretty well whereas on the French side there has not been a single conviction of any French official.

A prologue to Dirty War, Clean Hands can be found at the International Writing Program website http://www.uiowa.edu/~iwp/WRIT/documents/ WoodworthPrologueReady.pdf

  1. Leader of the Socialist Party which came to power in 1982.
  2. Baltasar Garzon: Judge Garzon gained prominence for his actions against the semi-official (GAL) death squads. He also spearheaded the campaign to extradite the former Chilean military ruler, General Augusto Pinochet, from London to Spain for human rights abuses. [Editor's note.]
  3. Batasuna: Basque separatist party which is accused of acting as a political front for ETA - a charge it denies. Spanish authorities say Batasuna provides members, material and technical assistance to ETA. [Editor's note.]
  4. February, 2003 ... P.W writes ... "Atxaga and a number of other Basque intellectuals protested against this closure, which echoed the closure on similar grounds of the radical daily Egin by Judge Baltasar Garzon in 1998. Though most observers would acknowledge that Egin was probably intimately linked to ETA, the grounds on which he closed the paper have still not been substantiated in court. The newspaper which effectively substituted for Egin was Gara, and it was a surprise that Egunkaria, rather than Gara, was the target of the Spanish judiciary (in 2003). The closures, especially that of Egunkaria, have been widely perceived by Basque nationalists, including those very opposed to ETA, as a judicial assault by Spanish nationalists on Basque culture in general. The closures are obviously also of concern to anyone concerned with freedom of expression generally, as long as none of the charges have been vindicated in the courts.
  5. The French businessman Segundo Marey was, in 1983, held hostage for 10 days, and his kidnapping was the first trial in connection with crimes committed by GAL to be held before the Supreme Court. In July former Interior Minister José Barrionuevo and former Secretary of State Security Rafael Vera were sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for illegal detention and misappropriation of public funds in connection with the kidnapping of Segundo Marey Ten other defendants, including the former civil governor of Vizcaya and a number of senior police officers, were also sentenced to terms of imprisonment. [Editor's note.]
  6. Joxean Lasa and Joxi Zabala "disappeared" from southern France in 1983 and their bodies "or rather dismembered skeletons" were identified in 1995. The bodies had been found in 1985 near Alicante along Spain's Mediterranean coast buried in a single grave of quicklime. The bodies showed signs of torture and each had a bullet wound in the back of the neck. Local Guardia Civil did not compare missing persons records and chalked it up to organized crime. A provincial pathologist who examined the bodies and felt something "very big" lay behind the deaths, kept them in cold storage for ten years - even after his retirement - until the remains were positively identified.

Published 18 March 2004

Original in English
First published in

© Michael Standaert Eurozine