Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Appeals Against The Sentence

In between the hearings and the verdict of the boric acid case, the Supreme Court in Spain heard all of the appeals concerning the sentence in the main trial for the Madrid train bombings. The outcome of those appeals has been announced this morning and contains some significant rulings for several of the accused. In the Spanish legal system an appeal cannot be lodged to re-examine the evidence presented in the original trial. Instead the appeal is focused on the correctness of the sentence for the crime, or on other legal technicalities.

The state prosecution service did not support most of the appeals presented, and the case they presented to the Supreme Court was mostly one of support for the sentence delivered at the end of October 2007. An important exception to this was the appeal against the absolution of Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed (known as El Egipcio). This person escaped a sentence last year for membership of a terrorist group on the grounds that he had already been sentenced for the same offence in Italy. The prosecution appealed this verdict on the basis that the sentence in Italy had not yet been confirmed, and also alleging that the basis for the Italian conviction was not the same as that presented by Spanish prosecutors. The court today has rejected this appeal, so El Egipcio has in the end not been convicted of any offence in Spain.

The Supreme Court has also decided to free some of those convicted in the original trial for offences related to terrorism. Basel Ghalyoun, Mouhannad Almallah Dabas, Abdelilah el Fadoual el Akil and Raúl González have all been absolved in today’s hearing. None of these were accused of being direct material participants in the bombings; González in particular was a bit player in the trafficking of the explosives used in the bombs. However, the freeing of Ghalyoun and Almallah Dabas is something of a blow to the case presented concerning the use of the dwelling in the Madrid street of Virgen del Coro as a centre for Islamist propaganda and recruitment.

The only person to come out worse from the appeals process is Antonio Toro, who was found not guilty in the original trial, along with his sister Carmen. Both were accused of being active participants in the plot to sell the dynamite used in the train bombings. The Supreme Court has found Antonio Toro guilty of explosives trafficking and sentenced him to four years imprisonment. There has been no change to the sentence for Rafa Zouhier, his defence claimed it was illogical for him to be sentenced whilst people like Toro were found not guilty. Those who appealed for a higher sentence for him argued the opposite case that he was a key figure in the trafficking and supply of the explosives.

Other minor changes include a reduction of two years for Otman el Gnaoui, who nevertheless faces a long time in prison as he was convicted of being one of those who placed the bombs. Hassan el Haski has had his sentence reduced by one year on the grounds that it exceeded the maximum for the offence on which he was convicted. Apart from these changes the great majority of the appeals lodged have been rejected by the court. So far I haven’t seen the sentence, when I have a chance to study it I hope to flesh out some of the details behind the court’s decisions. Although these hearings are the end of the process against most of those accused of the bombings, there is still some unfinished business including the trial of Moutaz Almallah Dabas, whose brother Mouhannad was set free today.

El País - El Supremo confirma la absolución de El Egipcio por la matanza del 11-M
Público - El Supremo confirma la absolución de 'El Egipcio' en el juicio por los atentados del 11-M

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Another Nail In The Coffin

Yesterday we got the verdict in the trial of the four senior police officers accused of falsifying a forensic report concerning the discovery of boric acid at the home of Hassan el Haski. Sanity prevailed, and the ridiculous charges were dismissed in a verdict that makes it absolutely clear no crime was committed. Just as they did with the sentence in the main trial for the Madrid train bombings, the conspiracy theorists pick at the wording of the verdict to see if there is anything there which they can twist in an effort to get some consolation from yet another blow to their attempts to cast doubt on the authorship of their bombings. From yesterday’s decision they have inevitably picked up on the view of the judges that the way in which the report was altered was irregular. This of course is a long way from saying that any offence has been committed, but the conspiracy theorist media use this conclusion to try and suggest that they have been at least partially vindicated. What they seek to avoid above all is any kind of admission that they may ever have been wrong in urging the conviction of the officers concerned.

The problem with their conclusion is that the court did not find any irregularity at all in the removal of the paragraphs concerning the finding of boric acid in an ETA safe house and the attempt to link this to the discovery in El Haski's house. It is this section of the report which is at the heart of the whole controversy. What the judges said was that the correct way to have proceeded would have been to assign a fresh report to another specialist, rather than the superior officer changing the original one himself. The omission of the data relating to ETA is not only not considered irregular, the verdict actually explains in considerable detail why this data was irrelevant to the purpose of the report. The judges make clear that they regard the section as unfounded speculation, lacking in scientific rigour and which could only produce confusion. After all, this document was supposed to be a forensic analysis of the substance found, boric acid, this was what was requested by the investigating officers from their forensic colleagues. If the accused had attempted to change the results of the chemical analysis then there would be cause for concern, but this is not what happened. The judges also pointed out in their reasoning the total lack of any evidence relating boric acid to any past terrorist activity and that the inclusion of the references to previous discoveries of this substance added nothing at all to the investigation of the Madrid bombings. The verdict describes it as complementary information of little or no value.

Naturally none of the pro-conspiracy theory media sees any need to report such damning conclusions for yet another of their attempts to mix ETA with the bombings. TeleMadrid yesterday demonstrated how painful it is to recognise reality by focusing its report entirely on the question of the supposed irregularities. El Mundo takes the manipulation a stage further than Telemadrid. Their edition this morning carried a headline that is not just manipulation of the verdict, it is manifestly false. They claim that the forensic police have been accused of being untruthful by the court in order to avoid linking ETA to the bombings. The word that appears in quotes in their headline, “inveraz”, doesn’t actually appear at all in the document of the verdict although El Mundo attempts to pretend it is citing that source. The only point at which the verdict questions the truthfulness of what was done is over the issue of one of the accused putting his name on the report for an analysis which he hadn’t carried out himself. The verdict itself makes clear that this is not that unusual a practice, and given that the officer concerned accepted the findings of the original chemical analysis there was no reason for him to repeat it. From such tiny crumbs El Mundo attempts to deceive its readers about what has really happened. Not surprising, because the whole sorry, crazy affair began with them.

The verdict of the court
El Mundo - La Policía Científica fue 'inveraz' para no vincular a ETA con el 11-M
El País - Los policías no cometieron falsedad; las modificaciones eran "inocuas"