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The following is an article from yesterday's La Vanguardia by Pedro Schwartz, one of the Vangua's two best commentators along with Xavier Sala i Martin. It's on Aznar's appearance before the parliamentary committee.
During the almost eleven hours of his testimony before the committee investigating March 11, José María Aznar confirmed his integrity as a person and his solidity as a politician. The attempted victim of a show aimed at tearing him down, he became the accuser of those who, in an attempt to ruin his reputation, had given credit to false rumors and had even blamed his government for sins of omission or commission due to the horrible massacre at Atocha. Even though we may not agree with everything Aznar said, we maintain that Aznar was absolved of the charges that the leftist deputies and nationalists of all stripes placed against him.
The first charge Aznar had to face was that his government had intentionally lied for partisan purposes when it attributed the crime to ETA during almost a day and a half, because that would without doubt have given the victory in the upcoming elections to the PP. However, the cabinet ministers sincerely believed that it was ETA. Those of us who followed the police investigations during those hours of March 11 and 12 thought what the government was saying was true. The attempts by the Basque terrorist gang's attempts to organize a massacre of similar proportions at the Chamartín train station the Christmas before seemed to confirm this. Ibarretxe believed it. Rodríguez Zapatero, testified Aznar before the commission, told him that very thing in the first of the two telephone conversations they had. Then the van with Koranic tapes was discovered and Interior Minister Acebes immediately informed about the finding and ordered the immediate investigation of the Islamic trail. Foreign Minister Ana de Palacio sent telegrams attributing the attack to ETA due to an excess of confidence in the validity of the initial clues, but not in a deliberate attempt to hide the truth. After hearing the detalied testimony of Acebes first and then Aznar before the commission, I think that many people of good will believe that there were no deliberate lies, but an explainable initial error.
An error that the PP government did commit, in my opinion, was not immediately calling a meeting of the commission of the antiterrorist pact (between the major political parties). Aznar explained this before the commission saying that he did not want to distract his ministers from their sudden obligations. It might have served to unify political positions regarding this attack if opposition deputies had participated in the deliberations about what to do.
Rather than unity against the attack, improbable information was running around, and the enemies of the government were the ones spreading it. For example, the rumor that the government had gotten the King to sign a decree suspending the elections was spread around. The radio network SER spoke of the bodies of suicide terrorists found in the destroyed train cars. It must be said that this radio network and the newspapers close to it organized a systematic campaign against the PP, in a tone bordering personal hate, as their readers and listeners had become used to after the PP's victory by an absolute majority in 2000. To this journalistic campaign was added the illegal behavior of those who conspired to lay siege to the several PP headquarters on the "day of reflection", accusing the government of lying and above all of being guilty for the massacre because it had supported the US in the Iraq war.
The second charge, explicit in the mouths of the leftists and the extreme nationalists, implicit in the questions of others more moderate, is that the attack would not have happened if Aznar had not so clearly supported Bush over the Iraq war. The blame belongs only and exclusively to the terrorists. Aznar shouldn't have even needed to say that. He evied the luck that Bush had that he and the American government were not blamed for the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The Atocha attack shows precisely that Islamic terrorism must be combatted with strength and firmness, not by washing our hands like Pilate and leaving the hard work to others more valiant. Aznar decided, against the majority of Spanish public opinion and some of his ministers, that it was necessary to side with Bush and Blair on the Iraq question, even at the risk of losing the next election. But those are the rules of parliamentary democracy: the Prime Minister can make unpopular decisions if he believes that they are in the public benefit. Then the ballots talk. I think the PP would have won the election if the Islamic terrorists had not tried to manipulate them with an attack that would make the Spanish people cowardly. Again I say that a balanced person would have to admit that Aznar was right when he stated that the attack's objective was precisely and calculatedly planned to change the election results, which the PP seemed to already have won.
The third charge against Aznar is the lack of prevision and preparation against a possible attack by Islamic terrorists. If there is any government that cannot be accused of negligence toward terrorism and especially Islamic terrorism, that minority of Islam dedicated to destroying Western civilization, it is the Aznar government. The persecution unleashed against José María Aznar after March 11 should seem ecessive even for his critics. For those of us who believe that Spain's place is beside the United States and our allies against our enemies, Aznar's stature is growing and growing.