Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Former Prime Minister José María Aznar spoke for eleven hours yesterday before the Parliamentary commission investigating the March 11 bombings in Madrid. It was all televised live on TV2; I watched some of it, especially the part where he chewed up the Esquerra Republicana guy and spit him out. Aznar was devastating. He laid out the facts clean, hard, and straight, and carried out a fearsome assault on the media of communication, especially the leftist radio network SER, for at the very least irresponsibly spreading rumors between March 11 and March 14. Aznar looked extremely good, though his enemies are already smearing him personally as arrogant, stubborn, mean, and nasty. I cannot help thinking that his performance will win the PP a few points, and this couldn't come at a worse time for Zap; Aznar looked strong and professional, and Zap and the Socialists have finally worn out their honeymoon. The media are beginning to portray them as weak amateur bumblers who, in addition, aren't very smart. Miguel Ángel Moratinos, in particular, has been revealed as an extremely poor choice, and Zap probably ought to toss him over the side and get someone competent to be Foreign Minister. I never thought I would miss Ana Palacio, but Moratinos has made a believer out of me. Zap and Moratinos have managed to pull Spain out of the Washington-London axis and insert it into the Havana-Caracas axis, which even Lula is staying out of. Now you tell me whether that was smart. Or ethical. Looks to me like Zap has ditched as Spain's allies two democratically elected leaders, Bush and Blair, for two tinpot Latin American caudillos.

Here are a few excerpts from Aznar's opening statement.

On March 11, three days before the general election, Spain suffered a horrible attack by Islamic terrorism that murdered 192 people, wounded hundreds, and caused a brutal upheaval in our society. What did the government that I presided do?...The summary of the government's actions is that in 60 hours:

1. The government made sure that the citizens´lives could continue normally.
2. The government did everything it could to assure all kinds of help to the victims and their families.
3. The government began the rapid and effective investigation by the security forces of the State, which two days after the attacks led to the arrests of various of the perpetrators.
4. The government informed (the citizens) with a speed and a transparency without precedent in an investigation of this kind.
5. And the government made sure that it was possible, on Sunday March 14, to hold the general election normally, as happened.

Aznar went over the timetable of the events of the morning of March 11 after the bombs went off at three Madrid train stations just after 8 AM. Before 9 AM the Socialist Party had incorrectly attributed the attacks to ETA in a public statement. The president of the Basque Country did the same at 9:35. The minister of Interior did not attribute the attacks to ETA until a press conference at 1:30 PM, and he did so based on intelligence the government had received from the security authorities, which soon turned out to be wrong. At 4:45 PM the minister of Interior informed Aznar that the van (which turned out to be the one the Islamic terrorists had used, and was the first clue that ETA was perhaps not responsible) had been found; it was then searched, evidence was found, and this information was made public by the Minister of Interior at 8:20 PM. The government contacted opposition political parties and the media of communication before the 8:20 statement was made. Opposition political parties and communications media, especially the radio network SER, then proceeded to go nuts. In the early morning of the next day, Friday March 12, the autopsies demonstrated there had been no suicide bombers, and at 2:40 AM an unexploded bomb was found in the wreckage. Analysis of the bomb and the other contents of the backpack it was hidden in became the decisive clue that made it clear the bombings were an Al Qaeda job. Arrests of the perpetrators began. There is no evidence the government covered up anything. There is no evidence that the initial, incorrect assumption that ETA was guilty, which everyone from Carod-Rovira to Ibarretxe jumped to, was in anything but good faith. There is a great deal of evidence showing the government acted responsibly in dealing with the tragedy. The proof is that they found out who really did it within a day and made the first arrests only a day later, that society did not fall apart, that the elections went on as scheduled, that the PP lost, and that they participated in a democratic transition of power, only Spain's fourth ever in history.

Aznar again:

I maintain that opposition parties and media of communication known for their delirious obsession against the Partido Popular government lied; they fabricated a "big lie" about the government's management, they tried to destabilize it, and they had their role on a "day of reflection" (the day before the election, when all political campaigning is prohibited, so the PP could not answer back) which they used to support the organized harassment of a democratic political party, still responsible for the government of the nation at one of the most difficult moments we can remember, a few hours away from the general election.

I would like to support this statement with several facts:

First, the false information that there had been suicide bombers, which was directed at discrediting the government's management and introduce what, if it had been true, would have been a determining element in confirming Islamic perpetration of the attacks.

The government was accused of knowing about and covering up, since the morning of March 11, the contents of the van found in Alcalá. A false accusation. False then, and certified false by the testimony before this very commission.

The rumor was propagated that high-ranking police officers had resigned en masse in a protest against the government. Again, false information, which I can only understand as an attempt to destabilize the leadership and the management of the antiterrorist struggle at that moment.

The story was fabricated that the minister of Interior had seen the King and submitted for his signature a decree suspending the elections. Again, a malicious rumor aimed at creating a climate of abnormality and delegitimization of the government through libel and rumor.

It was even said that the White House was going to publicly announce Al Qaeda's responsiblity. The White House never thought of doing such a thing.

Things led to such a level of deformation that when the existence and the contents of the video claiming responsibility were announced, one radio network actually reported to its listeners that they had known about the existence of the video since that morning, but they had held up the news in order to behave responsibly. (That video was not filmed until 5 PM on the day it was found.)

Such a level of journalistic irresponsibility and unprofessionalism is unthinkable in any politically sophisticated society, as is the mass stampede of a sizable bloc of Spanish voters based on their uncritical acceptance of what they were told. Fortunately, more than 9 million Spanish voters were not swayed, but unfortunately, with the help of Osama Bin Laden, the Socialists and their allies in the press managed to hijack the election.

See, in a democracy, there are written and unwritten rules regarding what you're allowed to do in order to influence the voters. These rules may change over the years. An example is that before about 1980, in US politics, there was an unwritten rule that the press didn't interfere in politicians' private lives. By 1990 that had changed. There is still an unwritten rule that the press shouldn't interfere with politicians' children until about age 21.

One of the most important unwritten rules is that if you're a responsible informer, you don't spread rumors. You don't announce stuff on the air that you don't know for sure is true, whether you're a reporter, an opinion commentator, or a politician yourself. There is no way that the Spanish media, especially the SER, can be said to have behaved responsibly between March 11 and 14. They absolutely did not obey this unwritten rule. I doubt they know it exists.

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