Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Chess Players....The Victims Associations

One of the hardest things to comprehend about the campaign spreading the conspiracy theories is the participation of associations that exist with the stated aim of representing the victims of terrorism. In the trial we have two examples of groups that have managed to obtain representation on the assumption that they form part of the accusation against those accused. Indeed, as part of obtaining such representation they had to present a written accusation. These two associations are the Asociación de Victimas de Terrorismo (AVT) and the Asociación de Ayuda a las Victimas del 11-M.

The AVT actually represents relatively few of the victims of the Madrid bombings, and is almost entirely focused on ETA and the political battle over whether the current Spanish government should attempt a political solution to bring terrorism to an end in the Basque country. The current leadership is closely linked to the Partido Popular and organises frequent anti-government demonstrations. It is also a very litigious group, which includes taking to court those who have the nerve to criticise their partisan political activism; a recent case involves the well known Spanish author Javier Marias. The second association does represent more of the victims of the train attacks although it is not the only association that does so; the Asociación 11M Afectados del Terrorismo represents a significant quantity of the victims and supports the prosecution case against those accused. This division of the victims is a consequence of the politicisation of terrorism in Spain, as indeed is the whole campaign to promote the conspiracy theories.

One thing has to be clear, whatever the political motivation of the leaders of these associations, they do have members who are people who either suffered the effects of the train bombings at first hand, or who are victims because members of their family were either killed or wounded in the attacks. It raises the question of who actually believes in these theories? Personally I have no doubt that the principal promoters of the conspiracy theories are only too well aware that what they are selling is nonsense, but in the case of the victims who support these theories it is much tougher; could anyone really lose a close member of their family in these attacks and yet still put politics before all other considerations? The answer to this question, unfortunately, appears in some cases to be yes.

It is also the case that not all members of these associations necessarily subscribe to the political positions being adopted by the leadership, and some victims belong to more than one association. In a recent interview in El País, one member of the AVT described how he came across the body of his dead wife in the emergency morgue that was set up in the aftermath of the bombings. Describing in the interview how he had removed a nail embedded in his wife's face he asked the question "Are those who believe in the conspiracy going to tell me that there was no shrapnel in the bombs?". The claim that there was no shrapnel used in the bombs that exploded is part of the attempt by the conspiracy theorists to discredit the unexploded bomb discovered in Vallecas - because this bomb did contain nails and screws as well as explosive.

These associations have lawyers representing them in the trial, and as we have already seen these lawyers dedicate their time to looking for opportunities to raise favourite issues of the conspiracy theorists. When a defendant refuses to answer questions, they seize the opportunity to put forward questions on issues such as ETA involvement that they know will receive no answer. They dedicate far more time and effort to grilling police witnesses than they do to the defendants, and only seem to be present in the trial at those moments when the subject matter is something close to the heart of the conspiracy theorists. The chief judge presiding over the tribunal has already reminded these lawyers on several occasions that their legal role in the process is to sustain the accusation which permits them to be represented in the trial, and that if they are not prepared to do that they should withdraw the accusation. Despite these warnings they continue to play a marginal and propagandistic role in the trial, the disservice to the cause of the victims could hardly be greater.

Let us suppose, just for the sake of argument, that those accused of the train bombings are guilty as charged; but that thanks to the efforts of the AVT and the Asociación de Ayuda they manage to walk free from the trial. I don’t think this situation is likely to happen, if those accused end up being freed it will be because of much stronger arguments than those used by the conspiracy theorists, I simply raise it as a possibility. It would certainly be a first as far as I am aware; the perpetrators of a major terrorist attack walking free thanks to the efforts of associations that are supposed to represent the victims of the same attack.

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