Friday, October 12, 2007

31st October, The Date For The Verdict

It looks as if the lengthy wait for the verdict on the Madrid bombings is now almost over. It has been announced that the verdict will be delivered in a court session on the 31st October. The announcement has inevitably provoked speculation about the fate of the 28 accused, particularly concerning the 18 who are still held in prison awaiting sentence. Much of this speculation means little as there have been no reliable leaks on the deliberations of the 3 judges who make up the tribunal. However, it is possible to draw certain inferences from the process. Given that there have been no further moves to release any of the accused since the decision on Mahmoud Slimane Aoun a few weeks ago, and assuming that the announcement means the judges have finished with their deliberations, it suggests that none of those who are currently being held in prison can expect to receive a prison sentence less than double that which they have already served in the run up to the trial. Were this not the case, it would be normal for the tribunal to do what they have done in the case of Slimane Aoun and release them before the verdict is issued, as they would already have served their time in prison allowing for remission on the total sentence. This is not to say that the tribunal is necessarily obliged to follow this norm, but it would be odd to do it in one case and not in others. On those of the accused who are not in prison it is not possible to draw any inferences at all about their sentence, they could be freed or they could be given the sentence requested by the prosecution.

If there are guilty verdicts on all of those held in prison, that should mean that the judges have accepted the key allegations of the prosecution case. There has been some expectation about whether there was sufficient evidence to convict the 3 men accused of being intellectual authors of the bombings, Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed, Youssef Belhadj and Hassan el Haski. In addition there will be much interest on the verdict concerning Jamal Zougam and Abdelmajid Bouchar who are both accused of being amongst the group who actually carried out the bombings. The main members of the group from Asturias accused of organising the supply of the explosives are also facing prison sentences, and heavy ones if the judges decide to accept the prosecution demands. I would not be surprised if some of those who are currently free receive light sentences for their participation, the police net was cast very wide and there are several of the accused whose involvement was at best incidental to the carrying out of the attacks. As well as bringing closure for the victims of the train bombings, the political impact of the sentence, coming only 5 months before a general election, should not be underestimated either. The arguments and decisions of the judges are going to be subjected to intense examination.

El País