Silencing the Truth About the Attacks in Spain

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A
group representing reporters and editors at Spain’s state-run news
agency, EFE, says the agency knew
about evidence pointing to involvement by Islamic terrorists in
the Mar. 11 train bombings in Madrid that very morning, but kept
it under wraps due to pressure from the government of Prime Minister
José María Aznar.

"EFE
knew, from the very morning of (last) Thursday’s attacks in Madrid,
about the existence of a cell-phone configured in Arabic and about
the van found in Alcalá de Henares, and knew that one of
the dead was a terrorist," the committee of EFE employees said
in a press release.

But
"Reporting or broadcasting information pointing to involvement
by extremist Islamic terrorists that was obtained from primary sources
by our national news service writers was expressly prohibited,"
the committee said Monday.

The
heads of the Madrid Press Association (APM) met Wednesday with the
committee of EFE employees, who are now demanding that the agency’s
news director, Miguel Platón, resign.

The
EFE writers accuse Platón of imposing "a regime of manipulation
and censorship in this company over the last few days, to favor
the interests of the Popular Party (PP) with a view to the Mar.
14 elections."

They
maintained that the government’s manipulation of information was
aimed at ensuring a victory at the polls last Sunday by the conservative
PP, which ended up being trounced by the Spanish Socialist Workers
Party (PSOE).

A
little over an hour after 10 explosions tore through three commuter
trains during the morning rush-hour last Thursday, killing 200 and
injuring 1,500, the government blamed the Basque separatist group
ETA, and was echoed by the Spanish media, political parties, trade
unions and social organizations.

Decades
of terrorist attacks staged by ETA in demand of an independent Basque
homeland and two similar aborted attempts made it logical that the
group would be viewed as a likely suspect.

The
on-line editions of Spain’s main newspapers carried headlines that
day with different versions of "Massacre by ETA." The
first IPS report in Spanish was also titled "ETA Votes with
Bombs and Dead Civilians," while the headline of the agency’s
first article in English was "ETA Main Suspect in Rail Blasts,
More Than 170 Killed."

Not
until Thursday evening did the government announce that in the town
of Alcalá de Henares, the starting-point of several of the
trains carrying explosives, police found a stolen van carrying detonators
and an audiotape of Koranic verses in Arabic.

Investigators
also found a sports bag containing an unexploded bomb, a detonator
and a cell-phone configured in Arabic at one of the sites of the
explosions.

Shortly
after the government reported the discovery of the van, a London-based
Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported
that it had received an e-mail in the name of a group with links
to the al-Qaeda Islamic terrorist network claiming responsibility
for the blasts.

Nevertheless,
Aznar personally called the directors of El País, Jesús
Ceberio, in Madrid, and El Periódico, Antonio Franco, in
Barcelona, to tell them there was not the slightest doubt that ETA
was responsible.

"It
was then that I, under the conviction that the prime minister of
my country was incapable, in the exercise of his duty, to give me
assurances about something he was not completely sure about, decided
on the headline: ‘ETA’s M-11′," Franco wrote in an editorial
that was posted on the Catalan newspaper’s website.

"The
prime minister gave his word to the heads of the media so they would
present the attacks as the work of the ETA terrorist group,"
wrote El País in an editorial on Sunday, the day of the elections,
in which the PP, previously expected to win handily, was defeated
by Spain’s socialists.

The
association of foreign journalists, to which the IPS correspondent
in Madrid belongs, also complained that a dozen of its members had
received phone calls from the State Secretariat of Communication,
"explicitly requesting that our reports state that ETA was
the perpetrator of the attacks."

The
association of employees (APM) of the Madrid public TV station also
complained of "outright manipulation," "censorship,"
"falsification of news," and the "concealing"
of information.

"In
the future, we demand that ethical standards be respected, so journalists
are able to work freely and provide truthful information,"
APM president Fernando González Urbaneja told IPS.

On
the day of the attacks, Foreign Minister Ana Palacios sent instructions
to Spanish embassies around the world. According to El País,
her memo stated: "You should use any opportunity to confirm
ETA’s responsibility for these brutal attacks, hence helping to
dissipate any type of doubt that certain interested parties may
want to promote."

"The
Interior Ministry has confirmed that ETA was responsible" she
added in the message, which she later said was aimed at "providing
guidance" to embassies at their request.

Even
the United Nations Security Council issued a resolution on the day
of the attacks blaming ETA, on the insistence of Madrid, which said
it had irrefutable evidence of involvement by the Basque separatist
group.

The
embarrassed Security Council is now preparing to annul the resolution.

Senior
European officials also complained this week that their governments
felt misled by the Aznar administration’s insistent blaming of ETA.

EU
Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana, a Spaniard, said in interviews
with Spanish television that it seemed certain that ETA was involved
because of the characteristics of the attack and the kind of explosive
that was used.

The
government erroneously reported on the day of the blasts that the
explosive was Titadyne dynamite, which ETA used in earlier attacks
after stealing several tons of it in France.

"It
is clear that there was pressure," Enrique Bustamante, international
relations expert and member of PSOE prime-minister-elect José
Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s advisory team, told IPS.

"This
was the first time that the head of government called all of the
major media and that censorship and control of information was applied
in the official news agency (EFE)."

When
the SER radio station, the most popular in Spain, reported that
"99 percent" of the evidence found by the military intelligence
National Information Center pointed to extremist Islamic groups,
"the phone immediately rang, and a ‘denial’ came from the director
of the Center himself," said Bustamante.

While
the government repeated "ETA" over and over again, like
a kind of mantra, the evidence that increasingly suggested Islamic
involvement continued to pile up.

Analysts
say the public’s anger at the way the government handled the information
arising from the investigation, as well as the fact that Spaniards
overwhelmingly opposed Spain’s support for the U.S.-led war on Iraq,
led to the Sunday defeat of the PP.

Despite
the fact that surveys indicated that over 80 percent of Spaniards
were opposed to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Aznar administration
dispatched 1,300 Spanish troops to take part in the occupation.

The
Madrid train bombings, apparently staged by one of the radical Islamic
groups that have threatened to take reprisals against the allies
of the George W. Bush administration in that war, reactivated the
public’s memory of its opposition to the war.

While
the Spanish media continued to echo the government line that ETA
was responsible, thousands of Spaniards took to the streets on Saturday,
Mar. 13 to repudiate the attacks and protest the government’s manipulation
of the facts.

Outside
PP offices in cities around Spain, demonstrators shouted "We
Said ‘NO’ to the War!" and "Your War, Our Corpses."

Bustamante
pointed out that the spontaneous outpouring of anger and grief was
"prompted by cell-phone, e-mail and Internet messages"
that circulated widely throughout Spain.

The
initial conviction that ETA was responsible might be compared to
what occurred after a car-bomb destroyed a U.S. federal building
in Oklahoma City on Apr. 19, 1995.

A
total of 169 people were killed in that terrorist attack, for which
no one claimed responsibility. Immediately after the blast, the
media reported that it was the work of "Arab terrorists"
– a version that continued to be echoed for two days.

IPS,
on the other hand, stated just hours after the explosion that certain
signs suggested involvement by far-right white supremacists.

Timothy
McVeigh, who fit that description, was eventually found guilty and
put to death for the bomb attack.

"It
was a cultural question," journalist Jim Lobe told a fellow
IPS writer.

"Americans
don’t see their young as capable of the kind of violence that was
visited on the federal building, but, through movies, news coverage,
and facile assumptions by so-called ‘terrorism’ experts (many of
whom are Islamaphobes), and an occasional off-the-record official,
the notion that it must have been Middle Eastern or more precisely
Arab in origin simply took hold.

"We
in the Washington bureau were 36 hours ahead of the rest of the
media in pointing to the (far-right) militias," said Lobe.

"As
a person from the US west with experience with Posse Comitatus and
other far-right groups in the court system, I was convinced that
some Americans were perfectly capable of such an outrage, and that
the target itself, a federal building, made perfect sense,"
he added.

"With
Pratap Chatterjee, our former colleague, quickly scoping out sites
on the web, we saw the chatter from far-right groups and realized
that April 19 was an important anniversary. It was a matter of ‘connecting
the dots’," said Lobe.

March
19, 2004


        
        

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