The Idaho Statesman 2003 (I)

A paper’s ties to terrorism


Javier Ruperez, 31 March 2003


Enclosed please find some comments about the article entitled “Basque Journalist Tells Tale of Tortures. Spain Accuses Newspaper of Terrorist Ties” published in the March 9th edition of your newspaper and signed by Gregory Hahn.


When someone writes about the rare decision of a judge to temporarily close a newspaper and arrest some of its main managers and editors in a democratic country, one should starts by carefully reading the judicial decision and by analyzing the facts and grounds for the judge’s decisions.


Greg Hahn did not have time to do it, although I must admit that he called this Embassy to get a sense of the Spanish government’s position on this subject and I thank him for doing so.


Therefore, I would like to complete his journalistic research with some facts and comments:


1. Judge Juan del Olmo of the National Court (let me clarify that this is the tribunal in charge of the al-Qaida caseload) decreed the temporary closing of the newspaper Egunkaria and the arrest of some of its upper editors and managers. Therefore, it is not fair to say that “Spain,” “The Spanish Authorities” or “The Spanish Government” have done or undone such a thing. It is, I insist, a judge who has made a decision within the scope of his competence. The Spanish Government respects, whether it likes them or not, the decisions of the courts.


2. What are the facts and grounds for the judge in order to reach such decision?


The judge charged the detainees with “a presumption of criminal conduct consisting in being a member or cooperating with the terrorist group ETA,” and ordered the temporary closing of the newspaper because he understood that it was created and it is still financed and managed by ETA. To prove his point, the judge presents a series of documents seized from the leadership of the terrorist group (not just from any random member but from the top leaders) in which they discuss such matters as the initial investment needed for the creation of the newspaper, stock trading, designation of directors and officers, public subsidies granted and even the management for publicity. That is, the judge is not speaking just of coincidences, ideological affinity, or common objectives between the newspaper and ETA. ETA is accused of acting as the real Board of Egunkaria and the newspaper is accused of being part of the criminal web of the terrorist group. Due to space constraints, I cannot reproduce all documents to show your readers how a terrorist group runs a newspaper. However, I am glad to reproduce a small sample referring to the last director of Egunkaria, Marcelo Otamendi, who was interviewed for Mr. Hahn´s article. ETA’s leaders wrote:


“Therefore the current process needs of a new Director […] There is a new possibility and after speaking with him he has not refused, that is, this option is becoming increasingly viable. Option: Martxelo Otamendi, from Tolosa, he used to be Director of Euskaltegi of the City Hall, and then has worked on TV. The current Director does not think he is a bad choice, but he will ask him, to put it this way, for ideological “closeness”. At the personal level, we have some doubts [about him]. We will wait to see if he gets closer to the project or else goes back to TV or gets motivated by other new matters. … In any event, we do not see any other option and believe that we have to go along with what we have.”


It looks like a report from any job interview, but the employers in this case are high leaders of a terrorist group that is responsible for the killing of almost one thousand people, including children and journalists.


3. However, when the investigation is completed, the decisions made by the judge in charge, his findings, grounds and conclusions have to be sent to a tribunal of the court which will decide whether the accused is guilty or not and will determine the punishment, if any. That is to say, the decisions made by Judge del Olmo are only temporary and must be confirmed or not by the tribunal trying the cause. After that, those decisions can also be appealed to higher courts. I would also like to clarify that the “incommunicado detention” of five days – the maximum allowed by law – that the article refers to is supervised by the judge, attorney assistance is provided, and a court doctor visits are scheduled daily. We are not referring here to administrative or military detention for an indefinite length, without formal charges by a judge, and without legal assistance which take place in other countries. I would like to point this out to those who are interested in Comparative Criminal Law, and who should be prudent when lecturing others about “due process.”


If Mr. Otamendi is finally sentenced as member or cooperator of ETA, there may be other people who will have to explain their relation with a member of an organization designated by the U.S. State Department as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization,” with the consequences that this has in the U.S. law.


4. Mr. Otamendi states that he has been tortured. I want to state vehemently that I believe his statement to be false, and remind you that the terrorist group ETA, as one can read in the instruction manual directed at its commandos and obtained from the heads of the group (and again, I regret that I am not able to reproduce the corresponding paragraphs due to lack of space), instructs its members to systematically denounce tortures when detained.


However, Mr. Otamendi´s accusations will be investigated, not only because in Spain all mistreatment accusations are investigated, but also because in this case, the Ministry of Interior has sued the detainee and his companions alleging defamation.


I want to clarify that Spain opposes torture, and fights it, not only through the domestic legislation but also by signing and promoting the international instruments pursuing its eradication in the world.


5. Mr. Otamendi states:


“I am not ready to close my mouth. It is a matter of dignity.”


I must say that Mr. Otamendi has always lived shutting his mouth, he has shut it when ETA has bombed killing children, he has shut it when ETA has threatened or killed his colleagues in journalism. Is that dignity? When a few weeks ago ETA killed Joseba Pagazaurtundua, I think that neither Mr. Otamendi went to the demonstrations condemning the act nor that those citizens mentioned in the article, expressed their anger. I do not recall either seeing anything in the Idaho Statesman about the violence, terror and death that ETA and his accomplices impose on many Basque citizens on a daily basis.


“Some of the English words are hard for Martxelo Otamendi to find”. There are some difficult words for Mr. Otamendi, as for other people to pronounce in English, Spanish or Basque: ETA ez, ETA no.


6. Some have the audacity to state that Spain has not changed. I think that they are the ones who did not want to change the way they see Spain. We are not in 1972 anymore. This year we will celebrate 25 years of the 1978 Constitution, ratified by the majority of the Spanish People, and we celebrate the 24th anniversary of the Autonomous Chart for the Basque Country, ratified by the Spanish Parliament and by the majority of the Basque People. With the Constitution and the Chart, the Basque Country has achieved the highest degree of self-government in history and the highest among the European regions. With the Constitution and the Chart, the Basque language, that coexists as official in the Basque country along with Spanish is not only tolerated, but actively promoted with public funds aimed at increasing its knowledge and use.


In the Basque country, there are as many newspapers and books published in Euskera as the audience might demand, and Spanish/Euskera newspapers are being published daily.


Within that policy of promoting Euskera, the newspaper Egunkaria, which states having an audience of 15,000, has received public subsidies in the amount of U.S. $10 million. Judge del Olmo has not temporarily closed Egunkaria because is written in Basque, but because he accuses it of being a part of a terrorist group.


The only “remnant” in Spain from the Franco era is precisely ETA.


7. The article reminds us of the absurd proposal of a “peace process between the Basques and Madrid.” Basques are Spanish citizens as any other Spaniards, with the same rights and freedoms. Spain is not “at war” with any part of its citizens. Spain, and the U.S. “are at war” with ETA. What is a “peace process between the Basques and Madrid”? Is this a proposal for a political negotiation between ETA and the Spanish State? If that is the proposal, I would like to ask his advocates what would they think of a “peace process” between the U.S. government and al-Qaida. Let us hear what they answer and then see what they mean when stating that “we are all against terrorism.”


8. Despite all the loose ends that I have mentioned, the sentence that irritated me the most in the article is probably the one that states:


“Meanwhile, Otamendi and the Basques in Spain look for any support they can get from Idaho.”


We must not identify Otamendi and his group with the “Basques in Spain.” Basques in Spain have different thinking patterns, and support different political options, but for the most part are against terrorist violence. What “Basques in Spain” want from Idaho is the same solidarity against terrorism that all Spaniards offered the U.S. after September 11. What “Basques in Spain” want from some of the citizens in Idaho is that they stop considering foreign terrorism as less damaging than its own, and that they stop proposing solutions that they would not accept in their own country. What Spain wants from the U.S. is what is already receiving: Assistance to defeat ETA.


Javier Ruperez is Spain’s ambassador to the United States.