Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why This Blog Exists

This blog has been set up with two principal aims. The first of these is to record in English the progress of the trial of those accused of having committed the attacks on the trains, and in the process to put together an account of what actually happened. This trial began on February 15th 2007, almost three years after the bombings and is expected to last for several months. The second aim is explain to an English speaking audience how it is that the Madrid train bombings have progressed from being a tragic event that left millions of Spaniards stunned and grieving for those who were killed, to being just another political tool to be used at will for the purposes of political opposition.

Ever since the Madrid train bombings took place in March 2004, there have been those around and inside the Partido Popular (PP), the main opposition party in Spain, who have persisted with the attempt to try and link the Basque terrorist group ETA with the bombings, and thus clear both their party and the government they presided of any accusation that they may have lied to the Spanish public about the authorship of the bombings, or that Spanish involvement in the war in Iraq may have converted the country into a target for Islamist terrorism.

This determination to find a connection to ETA, and the insistence that the “intellectual authors” of the bombings are not those who have been charged, seemed initially to be nothing more than an attempt to recover political positions after the change of government that followed the bombings. I found the attempts by the PP to create an equivalence between the bombings and the events (the elections) that immediately followed to be repugnant. All of this could have passed, they could have decided just to make a show of defiance and then let it drop. But no, if anything their campaign has intensified and the distorsion and manipulation involved have reached new heights.

I have had my doubts about creating a blog entirely dedicated to this topic. In many ways it seems a bit absurd to devote time and effort to debunking accusations and what can only loosely be called "theories" which have so little foundation, and which are mostly the creation of a small but noisy nucleus of resentful politicians, journalists and activists. On the other hand this small group is also powerful, having the apparatus of the second largest political party in Spain, and directly controlled or friendly media groups promoting their views.

Unfortunately, I feel that what really matters to the proponents of these theories is not the almost 200 people killed, or the thousands of injured as a result of the train bombings. The intention has been to discredit the judicial investigation and even possibly bring down the trial against those accused of the bombings; as a consequence provoking a political crisis that they hope would also bring down, or at least seriously weaken, the current government. There are blogs where supporters of the conspiracy theories congregate and openly salivate at this prospect; some writers are already sketching out the nature of that crisis. Whether the attempt to provoke such a crisis succeeds or not is irrelevant (I do not believe it will succeed), it is the abuse of power, and the crude exploitation of a tragedy that is the issue.

All these fantastic theories on the authorship of the bombings all have one thing in common; the absence of evidence to support them. Those who reject the volumes of documentation that suggest the bombings were the work of an Islamist group would struggle to put one page together of ‘positive’ evidence for any of their alternative explanations. When asked to provide such evidence they almost always claim that they are just asking a few questions, or expressing doubts about some of the evidence in the judicial indictment. Despite these pretexts, the suggestion, the insinuation, is being made that it was not those who have been formally accused. On web pages associated with the conspiracy theorists it goes beyond suggestion, the accusation is openly made that the bombings were organised by an alliance involving people connected to the current Spanish government, ETA, and then an optional selection of Islamists or secret service operatives from France and Morocco.

It is not my intention that this blog should offer an exhaustive examination of the indictment, the trial, and all the supporting evidence. Included in the anti-conspiracy links on this page are some Spanish sites who have done an excellent job on analysing and rebutting the accusations made by the conspiracy theorists. I will attempt to summarise here the principal points of controversy, and to relate the progress of the trial and any new developments it provokes.

The manipulation and abuse of terrorism for political objectives is not just confined to Spain, it is depressingly common; because all too often it works. This blog is my small contribution to trying to make sure that such abuse does not succeed here in Spain.

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