Wednesday, July 14, 2004

No War On Terror, No Liberties Either

GAL, a three-letter acronym that can get any Spanish socialist up in a tizzy, and his back against the wall. Short for Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación, or Anti-terrorist Liberation Groups, this was a shadowy death squad, funded and operated by the Spanish socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez between 1983 and 1987. Its aim was to deny safe haven to ETA terrorists, by kidnapping and killing them, inside Spain, and in the French part of Basque province.

During the late eighties the first GAL members were arrested when trying to hire killers, which led to an inquiry in 1994. Two years later, the socialists were ousted from government by a victory for the Popular Party. The socialists might have won still, as ETA was and continues to be much hated and Spaniards generally felt little if no compassion towards them, were it not that of the 23 extra-judicial killings, about one third had no relation with ETA. A fact that many say contributed to a revival in ETA's support from Basque reactionaries. To this date, Gonzalez and his socialist PSOE party deny every direct involvement with GAL, which is commonly referred to as Spain's 'Dirty War'.

Now, twenty years later, Spain's Attorney General, Candido Conde-Pumpido, is comparing the Bush Administration's anti-terrorist politics with GAL. Speaking at Madrid's Universidad Complutense, the attorney appointed by Zapatero stated:

As part of the summer courses of the Universidad Complutense, Conde-Pumpido stated that the United States have responded to the terrorist violence "with more violence and to throw out all legality", like what "happened in Spain at the end of the seventies and the start of the eighties". To Pumpido, who during those years was a magistrate in one of the provincial courts of San Sebastian [Basque Province -V-Man], this attitude, far from solving the problem, "created more terrorism".
He then goes on to state that because of Spain's experience with terrorism, the world, and specifically the United States, should take note of how to defeat terrorism:
The State Attorney General suggested that the experience of Spain in the fight against barbarism centers on three ideas. The first one is the acknowledgement that "the fight against terrorism is not to be seen as a war, because the terrorists aren't combattants, they're delinquents and criminals and the fight needs to be fought with legal proceedings and procedures".

Secondly, he commented that our country provides a system, specialized in the prosecution of terrorism, the 'Audiencia Nacional'. "A centralized system which carries an enormous number of advantages with it, which do not exist in other countries, and make them seek procedures outside the normal justice system, like for instance Guantanamo, because no systems exist like the Audiencia Nacional", he explained.

The third point Conde-Pumpido mentioned, is the thesis that "you cannot respond to violence with violence". "When Spain responded with violence things went bad for her in her fight against terrorism", on the contrary, "nowadays we use the law, and only the law, but with maximum force, and we are further than ever in our fight against ETA's terrorism". The Attorney General expressed his conviction that "using the same proceedings we can defeat Islamic terrorism".
To counter his arguments on how to fight terrorism, I sincerely do believe that we are fighting a war, which needs to be taken to the enemy, rather than serve them with legal papers after they strike, as President Bush has stated so many times.

How do you prosecute a terrorist organization, intent on the destruction of your civilization, hiding out in failed states which have no functioning legal system nor extradition treaties? How do you wait for the 'criminal' act to take place, when you know that the evidence may come in 2,000, 10,000 or in the case of the Madrid bombings, 191 dead innocent citizens?

The second point is truly a gift to respond to. Because it shows exactly the difference between European and American ways of dealing with terrorism, and by extent, personal freedoms. He speaks as the true bureaucrat, when there is a problem, we'll make a law for it, and another and another, until we have such great laws that we can prosecute it from every angle, and convict without exception. And then pound his chest and have the whole world take note of the 'advanced' legal system they built, truly a model for the world.

The Audiencia Nacional was formed in 1976, right after the transition from Franco's dictatorship, and was modeled after Franco's Tribunal de Orden Publico ('Tribunal of Public Order). Spain has a long history of these types of tribunals, going back to the civil war which ended 1882. The role of these tribunals has always been to actively investigate and prosecute (not separated, judges have wide-ranging investigative powers, can hold defendants for years without charges being brought, and ultimately judge them) terrorist or before the Audiencia Nacional's founding, subversive elements.

The sad thing is, he doesn't see it. He thinks the United States of America would embrace this type of tribunal when seeing it in action. Sure, it works wonders when you're fighting terrorists, but doesn't it leave a whole lot of power in the hands of the government? And doesn't it take away a whole lot more rights from citizens?

His final point on which he bases his entire view of how to prosecute the War on Terror is a fallacy. He states that answering violence with violence is wrong, not because it would be wrong per sé to do so, but because the result in Spain has shown that terrorism flared up afterwards. He doesn't realize that this was not a result of violence being dealt at the terrorists, but how it was dealt. With a government death squad. Therefore, his conclusion that violence can never be answered with violence is based on the premise that all government action to counter terrorism would be illegal and uncontrollable. Which, for an Attorney General, shows little confidence either in his democracy or his party.

To sum up, it is not the means with which the fight against terrorism is fought that creates more terrorism, as Spain's highest prosecutor states, but rather as was in the case of Spain, setting loose an uncontrolable band of kidnappers and assasins, targeting who they thought were terrorist, without any recourse. A government attempting to do that, will see the public's support disappear like snow before the Spanish sun, and give the terrorists legitimate ammunition to score public relations points.

And finally, I hope some liberal civil rights activists will read this post. You may worry about the Patriot Acts, I and II. Believe me, you can go up to Patriot Act XII and still have more civil liberties than the average European.

The article (in Spanish) can be found here, if it has moved to a paid archive, I kept a local transcript here.