Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Trial....The Verdict Is Announced

In a little over 50 minutes yesterday morning, the presiding judge Javier Gómez Bermúdez read a summary of the verdict in the trial of the 28 people still accused of having participated in the train bombings. His summary included reasons for rejecting defence allegations on procedures or evidence, a description of the court’s findings on the main evidence, details of compensation for the victims of the bombings, and the verdict on each of the accused. What follows here is my own summary, to be followed in the next few days by more detailed examination of different aspects of the verdict. There are 600 pages of the sentence to work my way through, it will take some time.

In the end only 3 of those accused have received the huge accumulated prison sentences that come from being found responsible for the murder of the 192 victims or the attempted murder of the 1841 recognised victims. Of these 3, Jamal Zougam and Otman el Gnaoui have been convicted of being material authors of the bombings; that is they were part of the group that planted the bombs on the trains. Emilio Suárez Trashorras was also sentenced as a necessary collaborator through his role in providing the explosives used in the bombs. It should be pointed out that a sentence of thousands of years in prison never means more than 40 years maximum in Spain.

Of the others found guilty, 12 have been sentenced to terms ranging from 12 to 23 years in prison for belonging to a terrorist group and related offences. This group includes some, Hassan el Haski, Abdelmajid Bouchar and Youssef Belhadj, who faced potentially much larger sentences as a result of being accused of being material or intellectual authors of the bombings. Rafa Zouhier also faced charges similar to those of Trashorras, but in the end he was only sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for explosives trafficking. There were 5 other convictions with terms of 3-5 years for offences relating to explosives trafficking or forgery of documentation. In total, 21 of the 28 accused have been found guilty.

Of the 7 who were acquitted, 5 belong to the group around Trashorras and include his former wife and her brother. Mohamed Moussaten, whose brother Brahim had already had charges dropped against him, was also freed. Finally there was the headline grabbing acquittal of Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed, charged with being an intellectual author and facing one of the huge sentences that correspond to this charge. He receives no sentence at all in Spain having been found not guilty on the authorship charge and due to the fact that he is already serving a sentence in Italy for membership of a terrorist group.

Given that most of the accused have been found guilty, it follows that the court accepted the main arguments of the prosecution case. The sentence declares that the greater part, if not all, of the explosives used in the train bombs came from the Mina Conchita in Asturias. It accepts as valid the unexploded bomb that was recovered from one of the trains at the station of El Pozo. The Renault Kangoo van alleged to have been used to transport the bombs and the people who placed them is accepted as valid evidence, although only to the extent that it was used by the number of people (3) seen getting out of it by a witness on the morning of the bombings. The account of events that occurred in Leganés on April 3rd 2004 is accepted in full by the tribunal. Gómez Bermúdez also dedicated part of his summary to the question of ETA participation in the bombings, and what we got is a list of reports by the police demonstrating that ETA is nowhere to be found. Not a single one of the conspiracy theorist allegations on ETA involvement has been accepted by the tribunal.

What were the surprises? For me, the not-guilty verdict on the alleged “intellectual authors” is not one of them. At times during the trial I was wondering whether I had missed some key evidence that firmly demonstrated the connection of Hassan el Haski or Youssef Belhadj to the planning of the bombings. The case of Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed is a little different, but as I will argue later in more detail he benefited from an effective defence, something which others amongst the accused cannot claim to have had. Both El Haski and Belhadj have been convicted on other offences, and Ahmed has escaped a similar fate because he is already imprisoned in Italy. The sentence on Adelmajid Bouchar was surprisingly light given that he was almost caught leaving the Leganés apartment, and his subsequent flight across Europe seemed to depend on a network of support. In the end there seems to be no evidence placing him on the trains. There is also some surprise about the complete acquittal of Antonio and Carmen Toro given their close relationship to Emilio Suárez Trashorras.

So the lucky ones are the Toro’s, Rafa Zouhier, Bouchar and Ahmed. The latter has had a particularly good week, with his sentence in Italy being reduced from 10 to 8 years as well. Many of the victims are understandably upset with the acquittals and lower sentences than were expected for many of the accused. However, the reality is that most of those who would have received harsh sentences for the massacre either died in Leganés or escaped. In the end the police cast their net very wide and it is hardly surprising that some of those linked by association only should walk free. Is it a good verdict? In general I think so, I’m not someone who has ever been uncritical of either the judicial system or the police, I’ve seen enough cases to persuade me that it’s always wise to critically examine their activities. However, in this case I think the court has done what it was supposed to do.

The chess players, of course, will not agree and will be tremendously disappointed with the result; not surprising given that they had actively sought the collapse of the case against the accused. As a consolation, they have seized on the absence of an identified “intellectual author”, in the upside down world of conspiracy theorist logic the freeing of someone accused of being an intellectual author means that the “real” authors are still out there somewhere. They now claim that the investigation must continue until an intellectual author is uncovered. This camouflaged retreat is accompanied by outrageously false claims that they never supported the theory of ETA involvement anyway. There will be no admission that they were wrong, those behind this shameful campaign have always known their claims were false and they will continue to try and cast doubt on the verdict in any way possible.

Guardian - 21 guilty, seven cleared over Madrid train bombings
BBC - Madrid bombers get long sentences
Washington Post - 3 Guilty of Mass Murder in Madrid Attack
New York Times - 7 Are Acquitted in Madrid Bombings
Daily Telegraph - Men behind Madrid bombs laugh in court

ABC - Sólo islamistas, sólo Goma 2 de Trashorras
ABC - La verdad judicial confirma las informaciones de ABC
Público - Ni etarras, ni Titadyne, ni conspiración
Público - La sentencia del 11-M descarta la implicación de ETA en los atentados y condena a 21 de los 28 procesados
El País - La mentira, condenada
El País - El tribunal descarta a ETA y achaca los atentados a una célula 'yihadista'
El Mundo - ETA, Irak, Zougam, el explosivo... y otras claves de la sentencia del 11-M
El Mundo - El final del principio en la investigación del 11-M

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