ETA / Al Qaeda – who did it?

by Maria on March 14, 2004

The first answer is; no one can be sure until the evidence is in. The second one; no one can be told until the votes are in.

Aznar’s government seemed to point out the culprits of the Madrid bombings last Thursday morning with an unseemly haste; ETA had done it and would be punished. The Justice minister expressed no doubt at all, even in what must have been appalling confusion in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. Aznar himself was careful not to name names, but clearly inferred that ETA was responsible. Even today, election day, government ministers are sticking to the party line. Ana Palacio, minister for foreign affairs, is still saying ETA is the ‘strong suspect’. Though, in a statement probably meant to clear the way for a future one blaming Al Qaeda, she does allow that ETA could have cooperated with Al Qaeda, as anything is possible in the dark world of terrorism. Meanwhile, rumours swirl around Spain by email and text message that the security and intelligence services have no doubt that Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda alone, is responsible.

What is going on? An election, and one that may not give the right an overall majority. Here is Aznar’s calculation. If the bombings were done by Al Qaeda, the 90% of the Spanish population that opposed the war in Iraq will feel that Aznar brought it on them and vote for the opposition. (rightly or wrongly, but it’s a fair calculation.) If the bombings were done by ETA, it’s a death blow to the organisation that will help rally many undecided voters to the rightist governing party.

In this situation, the decent thing to do is say we just don’t know who did it. The smart thing to do, absent proof or knowledge, is to blame ETA. Although a reaction to the government’s unfounded certainty has gathering pace in the last 24 hours, it is probably too late to affect the election. The government has the upper hand and the opposition is powerless to resist. Suspending campaigning helps the government – ministers must still make public statements and in doing so effectively campaign for the government by blaiming ETA.

The opposition are reduced to expressing the country’s pain, but moves to challenge the reigning view on blame will be seen as politicising the national grief. Today, already, the government has condemned that a protest about the clampdown on information about the culprits is contrary to the suspension of the political campaign. The opposition is hamstrung, and it knows it. And in the moment of grief, it’s not even the most important thing;

Today’s Observer reports:

“Socialist leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is reported to have told his party to avoid any debate on ‘a cover-up’ while the dead are being buried and some of the 266 in hospital are still fighting for their lives.

One senior Socialist said: ‘I have been biting my tongue all day in the face of such lies and deceit while there are 200 dead people.’ ”

The only decent thing to do in the face of cynical manipulation is to let it pass.

We still don’t know who is responsible for the bombing. It could indeed have been ETA. But actions speak louder than words. The London Tube is on high alert, and the Paris Metro is plastered with notices to report suspicious packages and the like. Outside of Spain, nobody seems to have been fooled.

{ 23 comments }

1

Nasi Lemak 03.14.04 at 12:48 pm

inferred or implied?

2

wbb 03.14.04 at 1:01 pm

Not needing to be decent myself, how long I ask could Aznar survive in office IF it is shown that he has used the truth of the carnage for his own electoral purposes? It would amount to the most damning denunciation of his government’s character. It is tempting to believe that there is nothing in it, as the charge is potentially so ruinous that only the most stupid miscalculation could have lead to it.

3

Keith M Ellis 03.14.04 at 1:57 pm

As I wrote elsewhere, there were good reasons to suspect ETA. The titadyne—strongly associated with ETA—is one of them. Another is that they were caught attempting to place an explosive on a train a few months ago. And it’s not the case that they’ve always given warning.

Prior to the recent developments, the abandoned van was very flimsy evidence for concluding that Al Qaeda was responsible.

Now the Al Qaeda case is much, much stronger. And I have no doubt that Aznar and the PP had strong interests in pushing the ETA theory. But, even so, prior to the recent developments I still think that the ETA connection made much more sense. Most of the people in Spain didn’t initially think anyone other than that ETA was responsible—I think it’s significant that the “it must be Al Qaeda” chorus arose immediately outside of Spain. I find it a little offensive, really, in the narcissistic sense that it’s all really about the US and 9/11. Which, frankly, it’s not. There’s a lot of terrorism in the world, people.

Now, however, that I see there is a much stronger case to be made that it was Al Qaeda, I find myself at least partly convinced that they were responsible. The biggest problem I had with the ETA theory was that the ETA had so little to gain and so much to lose from such a drastic action. (But then, this stuff doesn’t have to make sense. Timothy McVeigh almost single-handedly destroyed the “militia” movement in the US.) On the other hand, Al Qaeda had a lot to gain from such an action. And, of the “coalition of the willing”, perhaps they found the least defended/biggest impact target.

I guess what I’m saying is that it mustn’t necessarily be the case that the PP has been dishonest. I think that informed observers found the ETA theory most credible at the same time that Aznar was blaming them.

But the emotions and political stakes are so high that it’s hard to imagine that A) Somebody, somewhere, isn’t motivated enough to be dishonest; and/or, B) Somebody, somewhere, isn’t motivated enough to capitalize on a charge of dishonesty.

An ugly situation all around.

Note the possibilty that ETA, probably correctly, sees the PP as their main enemy and committing the bombings but blaming it on Al Qaeda would best serve their purposes if hurting the PP is their priority. Much more so than claiming responsibility themselves. Just a thought.

4

Keith M Ellis 03.14.04 at 2:02 pm

Aznar himself was careful not to name names, but clearly inferred that ETA was responsible.“—Maria

inferred or implied?“—Nasi Lemack

Of course only Maria truly knows what she intended. But this is, to me, a very interesting example of a questionable use of “infer” because, really, Maria could have meant exactly what she wrote. That is: that Aznar clearly had made the inference that the ETA was responsible. And, obviously, he implied this. :)

5

Andrew Boucher 03.14.04 at 2:31 pm

It is illogical to accuse al-Qaeda before getting accurate information… The Spanish government was aware of this and moved fast to blame Eta before anyone else. Perhaps al-Qaeda was only used to deceive Spanish and world public opinion.” Saudi Arabia’s Al-Riyadh

“It is very regrettable that some analysts and leaders rushed to link this terrorist act with so-called “Muslim terrorists” without verifying the truth of this insane statement [claim of responsibility by Abu-Hafs al-Masri brigades]… This insane statement has soiled the name of Islam… Islam is innocent of these bombings.”
Jordan’s Al-Dustur

I’d agree with Keith that there may be ugliness on both sides. I don’t know how Spanish television news are reporting this tragic event, so I can’t make any claims on which side is worse.

Let the Spanish people vote. May they do so with wisdom.

6

Maynard Handley 03.14.04 at 2:41 pm

Hey, the last time Al Qaeda did something, it turned out the Iraqi’s were the ones who got stomped for it, with no end of evidence fabricated or lied about.
Why should this time be any different? The Spaniards were happily compliant in the Iraqi affair.

7

JR 03.14.04 at 2:53 pm

Just take a look at this comic strip in Spanish progressive newspaper El País.

8

JR 03.14.04 at 3:13 pm

You can follow minute by minute the Spanish election in the official site of Interior Ministry.

9

rd 03.14.04 at 5:16 pm

On the other hand, the government has been quick to release information that pointed the other way, including at 1 AM on election eve. Reasonable, non-political, observers first reacted by thinking ETA was to blame. So I don’t see the big nefarious conspiracy. And if people think atrocities like this could have been avoided if we’d just stayed out of Iraq, they’ve got a poor grasp of these groups’ priorities.
Note that the video “message” give equal billing to Iraq and Afghanistan.

10

Maria 03.14.04 at 5:19 pm

Infer / imply? I meant ‘imply’, I think…

My apologies for using the kind of clumsy language that drives me crazy when others do it!

But now I see the cleverness of what Keith is inferring, I’m almost inclined to change my mind. ;-)

11

Maria 03.14.04 at 5:33 pm

Yes, equal amounts of ugliness all round I think.

And there are plenty of reasons to hold onto the belief that ETA was responsible, from the self-serving political ones to a simple desire that the perpetrators be from a terrorist organisation without global reach.

I just think that in the absence of proof, assertions should be seen as just that.

12

Brendan McDaid 03.14.04 at 8:45 pm

jr,
thanks for the link to the Spanish Interior Ministry. ‘No permitido’ was what I got on trying to link to it.

13

Stirling Newberry 03.14.04 at 8:49 pm

This isn’t one of your better efforts. That the government calculated to blame ETA early – the news media was not willing to play along – and the personal communications revolution of cellphones and the internet have allowed a counter movement to grow almost immediately.

The election was already breaking away from the PP – because of suspicions that they had engaged in politicking with a previous bombing investigation. The video tape, and its exposure, showing the government was saying “ETA” while seeing “Al Qaeda” was the last straw.

Sometimes the “safe” prediction isn’t very safe.

14

msg 03.14.04 at 10:04 pm

The violent deaths of innocent people as sports contest.
How much of the time and mental energy of world citizenry will be spent on debating and contemplating which one, among the possible responsible organizations, did in fact cause this latest atrocity?
And how much to a careful examination of their respective motives?
Because it doesn’t matter about their motives, does it?
Their motives are the same as everyone else’s – to win.
Team colors, team banners, what more do we need?
On to the play-offs!

15

MattS 03.14.04 at 10:14 pm

Although a reaction to the government’s unfounded certainty has gathering pace in the last 24 hours, it is probably too late to affect the election. The government has the upper hand and the opposition is powerless to resist. Suspending campaigning helps the government – ministers must still make public statements and in doing so effectively campaign for the government by blaiming ETA.

This prediction was wrong. You might consider why, instead of flaming us at BOP.

Y’all normally are great.

16

liberal japonicus 03.15.04 at 7:25 am

This prediction was wrong. You might consider why, instead of flaming us at BOP.

-sigh-There is more than enough ill-will to go around in the blogosphere. But you may wish to note the shout-out to CT that Sterling gave, which was

Crooked Timber gives an example of the kind craven caution which seemed so endemic: of course the right wing government was going to get away with it. But that has more to do with the traumatization of the American left, than with the realities in Spain itself.

When Chris points out that CT should not be taken as emblematic of the American left, (it would be a little difficult to present a full blown defense of Maria’s post, given that they are on different continents, but maybe that is the way things work at BOP) the reply is:

I stand corrected, and in the light of the candor which you seem to display I will amplify my disdain for the poor standard of analysis which her writing displayed.

“craven caution”? “my disdain for the poor standard of analysis”? Who’s flaming who? The results of this taste test have me choosing CT by a wide margin…

17

Maria 03.15.04 at 7:30 am

Well, all I can say is I’m very happy to have been wrong. Very happy indeed.

Turnout seems to have been very high, almost certainly as a result of the bombings. The socialists don’t have an absolute majority (42% compared to 38% for PP), but the result seems to be the expression of a protest vote against Aznar’s involvment in the war against Iraq and his insistence that ETA were responsible for the bombings.

And they say virtue is its own reward.

18

Chris Bertram 03.15.04 at 9:06 am

I just posted the following over on the corresponding thread BOP in response to an emotionally overcharged comment there:

_The bottom line is that CT got it dead wrong, and then though that the best way to cover it up was to attack me for not being an expert on CT._

No, I didn’t attack you. I simply pointed out – without prejudice to any of the substantive issues – that an assumption you were making about CT was false. Nor was I covering anything up. I don’t speak for Maria and she doesn’t speak for me: we don’t have a common party line at CT.

19

Keith M Ellis 03.15.04 at 9:08 am

All I know is that the right-wing American (in particular, but not just it) response to all this has made me sick to my stomach.

In the same way in which the victims and families of 9/11—some of whom I know—were appropriated for many people’s self-interested, partisan political opportunism, just so are the victims and families of 3/11—and Spain’s grief itself— appropriated for many outsider’s self-interested, partisan political opportunism. And they’re exceptionally fucking obnoxious about it, too.

20

jchave 03.15.04 at 9:50 am

‘And there are plenty of reasons to hold onto the belief that ETA was responsible, from the self-serving political ones to a simple desire that the perpetrators be from a terrorist organisation without global reach.’

Yes, and the fact that was significant circumstantial evidence pointing to ETA. Maria accuses the PP of ‘cynical manipulation’ without any evidence at all. Repeat: there was good reason to believe ETA was involved. Making statements to that effect is not lying or deceiving.

Many (e.g. Edward Hugh) who do not hold any brief for Aznar believed (and some continue to believe, that ETA was involved.)

You also fail to mention the illegal demonstation against the PP on saturday night. I suspect the PSOE is not quite so ‘virtuous’ as you make out.

21

Junjan 03.15.04 at 3:05 pm

Excerpt from yesterday article in the Spanish newspaper “Diario Critico”: (sorry about the awful translation)

Rebellion of Spanish judges and policemen because of Aznar’s behaviour on 11M massacre. Solvent sources have informed our newspaper that the very same day of the attack (Thursday), the Head of the Home Office Angel Acebes, knew Al-Qaida’s connection and that he still blamed ETA. Acebes was afterwards (Saturday 20:15) obliged to correct that, since a group of judges and public prosecutors leaded by Baltasar Garzón had met that afternoon to protest against that Home Office manipulation.

22

Maria 03.15.04 at 4:07 pm

Who or what is BOP?

Jchave – I did actually mention the protest on Saturday night, (in rather tortured English which really needed a pre-posting review);
“Today, already, the government has condemned that a protest about the clampdown on information about the culprits is contrary to the suspension of the political campaign. “

Contrary to your claim, the legality or otherwise of the demonstration has not been established, nor likely will it at this stage.

For the record, I didn’t and don’t condemn Aznar et al for making a wrong call in the first 24 – 48 hours after the bombings. After all, we still don’t know with absolute certainty who is responsible. What my post did say was that given the complete lack of certainty of those first couple of days, and the approaching election, it was wrong to blame it on one group and continue to broadcast it despite the growing evidence to the contrary. I also pointed out that blaming ETA would help the government win.

In my post, I said this was wrong but smart. The election result shows it was wrong and foolish.

23

Keith M Ellis 03.15.04 at 4:47 pm

In my post, I said this was wrong but smart. The election result shows it was wrong and foolish.“—Maria

Maybe. Maybe not. The PP could have lost even more seats had there been no doubt that al Qaeda was involved. As it was, there was substantial doubt.

I really don’t see what in your post, Maria, has people upset. You made a valid observation, and, really, that the PP lost as badly as they did took pretty much everyone by surprise, it seems to me.

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